We know that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election to support the Trump campaign, and we know that law enforcement and security agencies of the U.S. government have opened investigations into that interference.

A special counsel has been appointed to investigate, but Congress still has a critical role in uncovering the truth – and unfortunately, its approach has not inspired confidence.

American Oversight launched an investigation to get straight answers to some of the most pressing, non-classified questions about how the Trump administration has conducted itself in the face of these Russia allegations.  It is time for the administration to start telling the truth.

Questions We’re Investigating

American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests demanding the release of documents answering the following key questions. We will post our findings here.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Disclosure of Contacts with Russian Officials

What We’re Seeking:

  • The portion of Jeff Sessions’s security clearance investigation form (SF-86) in which he would have listed any foreign contacts.
  • DOJ records relating to any contacts between then-Senator Sessions and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Issue:

During his confirmation hearing to serve as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions failed to disclose his contacts with Russian government officials.

Based on that omission, American Oversight sued the Department of Justice and the FBI to release records from Sessions’s application for a security clearance. Sessions would have been required to inform the government of his Russian contacts as part of his security clearance process.

On May 24, a federal judge issued an order for DOJ to appear in court to defend against American Oversight’s lawsuit – and just a few hours later, DOJ confirmed to CNN that Sessions had not listed his Russian contacts on his SF-86 background investigation form.

As of early June, DOJ has not publicly released Sessions’s SF-86 or any other notes or records from his security clearance process that would indicate whether he attempted to hide his Russian contacts from investigators.

Records Obtained:

Court Filings

FOIA Requests:

Investigation Status: 

  • On May 24, DOJ confirmed to CNN that Sessions failed to disclose his Russian contacts on his SF-86, but they have not yet released that document.
  • The FBI has acknowledged our request regarding Sessions’s SF-86 but has not responded.
  • DOJ has replied to two of our requests regarding records relating Sessions’s contacts with Russian officials (DOJ-17-0007; DOJ-17-0008) and indicated that they have found no responsive records. For another request (DOJ-17-0009), DOJ has acknowledged the request but has not replied.
  • DOJ has not yet acknowledged the remaining requests.

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Firing of FBI Director James Comey

What We’re Seeking:

  • FBI and DOJ communications regarding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017.
  • DOJ records regarding Jeff Sessions’ potential violation of his recusal from matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Issue: 

On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly over Comey’s actions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump administration officials gave multiple, conflicting explanations for the firing – culminating with President Trump explicitly stating that he made the decision to fire Comey because the FBI was continuing to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Separately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have violated his recusal from matters relating to the 2016 election by making the recommendation that Trump fire Comey. As a Senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a political surrogate for President Trump’s campaign. He had previously announced that he would not be involved with any DOJ actions relating to the election.

Responses:

  • June 16, 2017 – Federal Bureau of Investigation – Response letter to our FOIA request for the Comey memos (DOJ-FBI-17-0153) stating that the records we requested are exempt from disclosure under FOIA due to a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding.

FOIA Requests:

Letters:

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“Wiretapping” Trump Tower

What We’re Seeking:

  • FBI records relating to any potential surveillance of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Issue:

On March 4, 2017, President Trump asserted that former President Obama, had placed wiretaps on Mr. Trump and entities or associates in Trump Tower for improper purposes during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign.

When asked about the basis for Mr. Trump’s assertions, the White House stated, “He’s the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.”

The president is the highest authority in the executive branch, by announcing wiretaps to the world, he has effectively declassified their existence. American Oversight has requested that the DOJ release records relating to these wiretaps – including any warrants and court orders – so that the public may assess the validity of President Trump’s claims.

FOIA Requests

  • March 20, 2017 – Department of Justice – Warrant applications or records requesting a court order to intercept communications related to candidate Donald Trump, Trump Tower, entities housed in Trump Tower, or any person affiliated with Mr. Trump’s campaign; court orders approving or rejecting those requests; records of those wiretaps, and; communications between the FBI or DOJ and Congress relating to these issues. (DOJ-17-0035)
  • March 20, 2017 – Department of Justice – Communications between the FBI and DOJ regarding President Trump’s allegations; communications between the White House Counsel’s office and the FBI or DOJ regarding wiretaps of Trump Tower, and; communications between the FBI or DOJ and Congress relating to these issues. (DOJ-17-0036)

Investigation Status:

Court Filings

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Political Interference at the FBI

What We’re Seeking:

  • Communications between White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the FBI regarding the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian contacts.

The Issue:

President Trump is not the only White House official to attempt to interfere with the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

On February 14, 2017, the New York Times and other news outlets began reporting that associates affiliated with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign had contact with Russian intelligence officials. The White House denied the allegation.

The following week, reports began to emerge that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had contacted the FBI to ask the agency “to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.”

In May 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum to the heads of all Department of Justice components (including the FBI) and all U.S. Attorneys entitled, “Communications with the White House and Congress.” The memo reads:

“Initial communications between the Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General, from the side of the Department, and the Counsel to the President, the Principal Deputy Counsel to the President, the President or the Vice President, from the side of the White House.”

There have been no reports that the memo has been rescinded or revised.

Given that President Trump made multiple attempts to thwart the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election – including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey – the public has a right to know what actions were taken by other White House officials to influence the FBI investigation.

FOIA Request:

  • March 9, 2017 – Federal Bureau of Investigation – Communications between Priebus and the FBI regarding February 2017 news reports of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian contacts; communications between the FBI and news media about this issue; communications between the FBI and Congress about this issue. (DOJ-17-0006)

Investigation Status:

  • The FBI has been ordered to complete their search for records by July 12, 2017.

Court Filings

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Recusal from Matters Relating to the 2016 Campaign

What We’re Seeking:

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s formal recusal document from matters relating to the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • DOJ records of any memoranda, ethics advice, or other analysis related to the recusal.

The Issue:

On March 2, 2017, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Apart from Sessions’s initial statement to the press, we don’t know exactly what this recusal includes because the document has never been released to the public.

The American people have a right to know what matters the Attorney General is – and is not – involved in, so that we can be confident that he is not helping to direct investigations into matters such as the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

FOIA Requests:

  • July 28, 2017 – Department of Justice – Records concerning the processing of American Oversight’s FOIA request regarding Attorney General Sessions’s SF-86. (DOJ-17-0300)
  • July 28, 2017 – Department of Justice – Records reflecting communications between the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the White House regarding the ongoing special counsel investigation and the possibility of removal of Robert Mueller III as special counsel. (DOJ-17-0299)
  • July 28, 2017 – Department of Justice – Records reflecting communications between the Office of the Attorney General and the White House regarding the DOJ’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the related appointment of a special counsel. (DOJ-17-0298)
  • July 28, 2017 – Department of Justice – Records reflecting communications between the Office of the Attorney General and the White House regarding Attorney General Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of presidential campaigns. (DOJ-17-0297)
  • March 13, 2017 – Department of Justice – A copy of the formal recusal document for Attorney General Jeff Sessions from matters relating to the 2016 presidential campaign; decision memoranda provided to Sessions regarding the recusal; records of any advice or analysis prepared by the Departmental Ethics Office, the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, or senior DOJ officials regarding the recusal.

Investigation Status:

  • DOJ has not yet acknowledged our request.

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Blocking Congressional Testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

What We’re Seeking:

  • Communications between DOJ and Congress or the White House regarding Sally Yates’ potential testimony to Congress.
  • Legal analysis or background materials provided to the White House by DOJ regarding Sally Yates’ potential testimony to Congress.
  • Communications with Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his staff regarding Sally Yates’ potential testimony to Congress.

The Issue:

In late March 2017, Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (House Intelligence Committee), cancelled a previously-planned open hearing into connections between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, at which former acting attorney general Sally Yates was scheduled to testify.

On March 28, 2017, it was reported that DOJ officials had attempted to prevent Yates from testifying at that hearing on the grounds that all of her testimony would have been covered by the presidential communications privilege and/or the deliberative process privilege.

As questions continue to arise about the ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the American people deserve to know whether and how the Trump administration has been cooperating with—or obstructing—that investigation.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – Communications between DOJ and Congress regarding the potential testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the House Intelligence Committee (DOJ-17-0061)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – Communications between DOJ and the White House regarding the potential testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the House Intelligence Committee (DOJ-17-0062)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – Legal analysis provided to the White House regarding the potential testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the House Intelligence Committee (DOJ-17-0063)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – Communications sent or received by Attorney General Sessions or others in his office relating to the potential testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the House Intelligence Committee (DOJ-17-0064)

Investigation Status:

  • DOJ has acknowledged our request but not yet responded.

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