Washington — The Department of Justice’s Inspector General should investigate the politicization of Freedom of Information Act processes at the agency in light of potential misconduct and political interference during the Trump administration, according to a letter sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The letter follows two recent court decisions in a FOIA lawsuit brought by CREW against DOJ seeking disclosure of an Office of Legal Counsel memo used by former Attorney General William Barr to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the evidence of then-President Trump’s obstruction of justice. Those decisions raise serious questions about whether senior political leaders at DOJ improperly pressured career officials to engage in misconduct by hiding the nature and purpose of the OLC memo, and there appear to have been similar problems in several other FOIA cases litigated by DOJ during the Trump administration.
“The Department of Justice and its employees are entrusted with representing the nation’s interests in critical cases involving the public’s right to know what the government is up to. DOJ undermined that trust by misleading the court and the public,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. “The public deserves to know if DOJ’s political leadership during the Trump administration is ultimately responsible for the improper conduct called out by the court.”
In May, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered DOJ to turn over a memo cited by Barr as contributing to his decision not to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice. In her opinion, the judge castigated DOJ for submitting declarations that were “so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.” In a second decision in June, she again took DOJ to task, accusing the agency of choosing not to tell the court the real purpose of the OLC memo and rejecting its claim that her initial decision was caused by the court’s “confusion” about DOJ’s arguments. CREW’s letter urges the Inspector General to investigate whether this problematic conduct was the product of pressure from DOJ’s political leadership, and if there has been politicization in other FOIA cases.
“Throughout his tenure at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Barr consistently used the law enforcement powers of the federal government to advance the personal and political interests of President Trump, rather than the interests of the United States. We are all still living with the consequences of those actions,” Bookbinder said. “Only with a full understanding of the politicization at the Department of Justice can we begin to move past the abuses of the last administration.”