American Oversight today sued the Department of Justice to shed light on a pair of secretive federal investigations into two of President Donald Trump’s frequent political targets: Hillary Clinton and the Russia investigation.
Following repeated demands from Trump and his congressional allies, the Justice Department ordered U.S. Attorneys John Huber of Utah and John Durham of Connecticut to conduct the investigations of, respectively, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the origins of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The orders raised serious concerns about the misuse of federal law enforcement for political purposes.
American Oversight filed two lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the release of emails and other documents that could reveal, among other things, whether the Durham and Huber investigations have been influenced by the White House or members of Congress.
In November 2017, then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions assigned Huber to look into allegations related to Clinton and the handling of uranium mining leases during her tenure as secretary of state. American Oversight submitted FOIA requests asking for records of communications or meetings between Huber and top Justice Department officials as well as communications between Huber and members of Congress, including Rep. Mark Meadows.
Earlier this year, American Oversight forced the Justice Department to release the signed directive from Sessions to Huber instructing him to begin the inquiry. In April 2019, DOJ attorneys filed a statement in court in which they argued that Huber was “not asked to conduct an ‘investigation.'” A month later, Attorney General William Barr told CBS News that Huber had been working on issues that “relate to Hillary Clinton” and that those were “winding down.” In response to American Oversight’s earlier litigation, DOJ has continued to insist that no written guidance was given to Huber beyond Sessions’ initial letter, and significant questions remain about the nature and scope of Huber’s investigation. The first of today’s lawsuits seeks Huber’s communications with Justice Department officials and members of Congress.
The second lawsuit seeks documents relating to Durham’s investigation. In May, Barr instructed Durham to investigate the Russia probe, which Trump has long argued was a “witch hunt” launched for political purposes and that should itself be investigated. A month before appointing Durham, Barr echoed Trump’s rhetoric and told Congress that he believed “spying” on the Trump campaign had been carried out by U.S. intelligence agencies.
American Oversight submitted FOIA requests seeking communications between Durham and senior Justice Department officials as well as communications that Durham or Justice officials had with the White House or Congress about the inquiry.
“The Justice Department’s job is to uphold the law, and it is deeply troubling that two attorneys general have allowed it to become a political weapon for the Trump White House,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “The public should be deeply suspicious about the growing list of conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points that are being pursued by Donald Trump’s DOJ, often after multiple other investigations have found nothing. It feels like Benghazi all over again—no amount of evidence seems to be enough; the perpetuation of the investigation is its own reward.”
The Justice Department, Durham, and Huber have failed to provide records in response to the FOIA requests, prompting American Oversight to file the two lawsuits today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Durham investigation complaint is available here, and the Huber investigation complaint is available here. More background about American Oversight’s previous litigation regarding the Huber investigation is available here.
On August 28, American Oversight filed another lawsuit against the Justice Department for records related to U.S. Attorney John Durham’s review of the origins of the Russia investigation. The lawsuit seeks Attorney General William Barr’s directive to Durham and records that could show the authority under which Barr issued the directive, as well as any directives or guidance provided to Durham. The full complaint is available here.
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