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Judicial Watch sues DOJ to release Trump-declassified ‘smoking gun’ documents from Russia probe

Documents were ordered released Jan. 19, 2021 but never made public because DOJ raised last minute privacy concerns.

Published: August 8, 2022 1:43pm

Updated: August 8, 2022 4:18pm

The conservative watchdog Judicial Watch has sued the Justice Department to compel the release of “smoking gun” documents former President Donald Trump declassified and ordered release that detail misconduct in the FBI’s discredited Russia collusion investigation.

The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed quietly in federal court on Aug. 1 and announced Monday by Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

"The Obama-Biden Administration and Deep State spying on Trump and his associates is the worst government corruption scandal in American history,” Fitton said. “And to make matters worse, the Biden DOJ simply refuses to release smoking gun documents about this corruption that the American people have an absolute right to see!”

Just the News reported last month that Trump ordered the declassification and release of a binder filled with sensitive FBI documents on Jan. 19, 2021, but the Justice Department never complied.

The release was delayed during the final hours of the Trump presidency when the DOJ raised privacy concerns about some of the memos and asked to make additional redactions, according to a memo from then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows obtained by Just the News. The memos were never released.

The declassified binder included hundreds of pages of sensitive FBI documents from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation that show how the bureau used informants and FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign and misled both a federal court and Congress about flaws in the evidence they offered to get approval for the investigation.

The declassified memos included transcripts of intercepts made by the FBI of Trump aides, a declassified copy of the final FISA warrant approved by an intelligence court, and the tasking orders and debriefings of the two main confidential human sources, Christopher Steele and Stefan Halper, the bureau used to investigate whether Trump had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Judicial Watch said in its lawsuit that it filed a FOIA request for the declassified documents in February, but the DOJ never complied.

“As of the date of this Complaint, Defendant has failed to (i) produce the requested records or demonstrate that the requested records are lawfully exempt from production; (ii) notify Plaintiff of the scope of any responsive records Defendant intends to produce or withhold and the reasons for any withholdings; or (iii) inform Plaintiff that it may appeal any adequately specific, adverse determination,” the lawsuit said.

“Plaintiff is being irreparably harmed by Defendant’s violation of FOIA, and Plaintiff will continue to be irreparably harmed unless Defendant is compelled to comply with it,” it added.

You can read the full lawsuit here:

The suit asks a federal judge in Washington DC to:

  1. order DOJ  to search for the records and demonstrate how it looked for the records;
  2. require DOJ to produce all nonexempt records responsive to the FOIA request plus an index of any responsive records that are being withheld;
  3. enjoin DOJ from continuing to any and all non-exempt records responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request;
  4. order DOJ to pay the group’s attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs.

In the end, multiple investigations found there was no collusion between Trump and Russia to hijack the 2016 election, and that the FBI violated rules and misled the FISA court in an effort to keep the probe going.

The documents that Trump declassified never saw the light of day, even though they were lawfully declassified by Trump and the DOJ was instructed by the president through Meadows to expeditiously release them after redacting private information as necessary.

"I am returning the bulk of the binder of declassified documents to the Department of Justice (including all that appear to have a potential to raise privacy concerns) with the instruction that the Department must expeditiously conduct a Privacy Act review under the standards that the Department of Justice would normally apply, redact material appropriately, and release the remaining material with redactions applied," Meadows wrote in the memo.

Just the News obtained the memo after going to the Trump collection at the National Archives and asking it to look for the binder of documents Trump had declassified. The Archives said it did not possess the documents, the Justice Department did and provided a copy of Meadows' memo.

In an interview, Meadows said he was dismayed that DOJ ignored a lawful instruction from a sitting president and said it was part of a larger dynamic in which the permanent federal bureaucracy repeatedly tied to undercut Trump to protect itself.

"Well, you know, the swamp is pretty deep," Meadows said. "But when we look at this, this particular president was all about draining the swamp, you know, and when he was running, that was more of a campaign slogan. When he got there, he realized that not only was the swamp very deep, but they they would fight back. And oftentimes he said, 'You know, I want to do this and get this out to the American people,' not just the classification in terms of issues that affected him or his campaign personally, but issues that affect the American people.

"What would happen is he would have a directive, and then we would see, as people were leaving the Oval Office, you know, they were nodding compliance in the Oval Office, and the minute they go out, they said, 'Well, we're not going to do that' or 'We're going to find all the reasons not to do it.' So I found that very often while I served as chief of staff, but also found that as a member of Congress, that many times we would go in and the president was all in on a transparency issue, only to find that many, whether they be at a particular agency or the Pentagon, they started pushing back."

Liz Harrington, Trump’s spokeswoman, told Just the News that DOJ’s failure to release the memos fit a pattern of political abuse inside an agency that is supposed to be above politics.

“For four years they lied, leaked, spied on, and smeared President Trump in their attempts to defy the will of the people,” she said. “This is further proof of the depths they will go to hide their corruption. It is far past time for transparency of one of the biggest political scandals in American history.” 

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI declined to comment.

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