Update: CREW has voluntarily dismissed this lawsuit. Read the notice of dismissal here.
CREW is suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its failure to release the as-filed Public Financial Disclosure reports of former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in violation of the Ethics in Government Act (EIGA).
Who is Matthew Whitaker?
Whitaker joined the Trump administration in October 2017 and served as Acting Attorney General from November 2018 to March 2019.
Prior to his tenure in the Trump administration, Whitaker was involved in several business ventures of questionable character. For example, between 2014-2017, Whitaker served on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing (WPM) and received nearly $17,000 in compensation. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission charged WPM with fraudulently deceiving customers and suppressing complaints through intimidation. WPM and Whitaker reportedly admitted to using Whitaker’s background as a former US Attorney to threaten customers who sought financial compensation for their losses. CREW previously called for an investigation into Whitaker and for his recusal from the Mueller investigation based on these facts.
Why were Whitaker’s Public Financial Disclosure Reports Edited Five Times?
Whitaker filed financial disclosure reports with DOJ in November 2017 and May 2018. Although agency ethics officials are required by law to promptly review and certify such reports, Whitaker’s reports sat with the agency for several months with no action. In November 2018, CREW requested Whitaker’s original as-filed reports from DOJ, which CREW had a right to obtain under EIGA since the agency possessed them for well over thirty days. But DOJ declined to release the as-filed reports, and instead released later versions that had been revised at least five times by DOJ ethics officials. To date, DOJ still has not released Whitaker’s as-filed reports to CREW.
This calls into question whether there were omissions or misstatements in Whitaker’s as-filed Public Financial Disclosure reports, which DOJ is improperly hiding from the public. Comparing the as-filed Public Financial Disclosure reports to later versions that CREW received will provide critical insight into whether DOJ adequately fulfilled its legal obligations in reviewing and certifying the reports.