New Lawsuit: Did the FBI Really Advise Sessions to Omit Russian Contacts?

WASHINGTON—Today, People For the American Way, represented by American Oversight and People For the American Way Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to force the agencies to disclose the instructions that the FBI gave to Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was applying for a security clearance.

A previous FOIA request by American Oversight confirmed reports that Mr. Sessions failed to disclose contacts with Russian government officials on his Standard Form 86 security clearance document. The Department of Justice has claimed that Mr. Sessions “was instructed [by the FBI investigator handling the background check] not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.”

On June 1, People For the American Way, through its Right Wing Watch project, filed a FOIA request with the FBI seeking information about instructions the FBI gave to Mr. Sessions “concerning what contacts with foreign individuals to list on or to omit from his SF-86 or other security clearance form.” Right Wing Watch’s request for expedited processing was initially denied, but was granted upon appeal on July 25th. FOIA requires agencies to produce documents within 20 days of granting expedited processing to a request; that time period has now passed.

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“The FBI has acknowledged that Right Wing Watch’s FOIA request is of urgent public importance, yet has failed to produce the required documents in the time required by law.

“The Department of Justice has claimed that Attorney General Sessions was told not to list some contacts with foreign government officials on his SF-86 form; the documents that Right Wing Watch has requested could easily show whether or not this claim is accurate.

“At a time when the president and his allies are under investigation for possible improper contacts with representatives of Russia’s government, it is imperative for the American people to know whether the attorney general is speaking accurately about omissions in his security clearance form. These documents should be easy to produce, and we look forward to receiving them promptly from the FBI.”

American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers released the following statement:

“Both in sworn testimony before the Senate and on his security clearance form that American Oversight successfully sued for, Jeff Sessions claimed no contact with Russian officials – but was forced to backtrack each time when that was shown to be false. After that lie, no one should take Jeff Sessions’s word about what the FBI instructed him, especially where those instructions would have directly contradicted the text of the security clearance form itself.

“If Jeff Sessions wants us to believe his excuse, he should prove it. However, since both Sessions and the Department of Justice continue to stonewall, American Oversight is joining People For the American Way in suing for the release of documents corroborating – or disproving – Sessions’ latest excuse. The Attorney General likes to talk about the importance of law and order. American Oversight and Right Wing Watch are happy to oblige.”

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

American Oversight is a non-partisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog committed to holding the government accountable. With congressional oversight lacking, American Oversight is stepping in to uncover and publicize information about malfeasance and corruption by administration officials. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.

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