Watchdog sues DOJ to force release of records related to Durham probe

Empower Oversight group seeking records, among others, about senior official Susan Hennessey, who was a critic of Durham probe before she joined DOJ.

Published: February 23, 2022 3:40pm

Updated: February 23, 2022 4:51pm

A nonprofit watchdog group on Wednesday sued the Justice Department, seeking to force the release of documents related to Special Counsel John Durham's inquiry into wrongdoing during the FBI's now-discredited Trump-Russia investigation.

Empower Oversight's lawsuit seeks to enforce two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from last summer that sought records detailing Durham's independence from political interference.

One of those requests concerns DOJ's hiring of Susan Hennessey inside the department's National Security Division. Prior to her appointment by President Biden's administration, Hennessey deleted thousands of tweets from her Twitter account, including posts that had disparaged the investigation run by Durham, the group said.

"Empower Oversight has been incredibly patient in attempting to work with the Justice Department since last summer," Empower Oversight Founder and President Jason Foster said. "But the issues raised in our filings are key to ensuring public faith in the integrity, independence, and objectivity of the DOJ's handling of the Durham probe."

You can read the full lawsuit here:

Hennesy's appointment has raised concerns in Congress about potential conflicts of interest. Beyond her Twitter criticisms, Hennessey has extensive ties to the Brookings Institution, and one of the men indicted in the Durham investigation, Igor Danchenko, is a former employee of the think tank, the group noted.

Last summer, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland about Hennessey, saying they had "concerns about potential conflicts of several Biden Justice Department officials and can't get a straight answer from the attorney general.”

Empower Oversight's lawsuit seeks documents related to Hennessey's hiring and any steps taken — such as recusing herself from participating in any Durham-related decisions — to mitigate the appearance that Ms. Hennessey's biases could undermine the objectivity and independence of Durham's probe.

It also seeks documents detailing Garland's commitment to fully fund Durham's budget. During his confirmation hearing, he was asked whether he will provide Durham with the requisite funds necessary to see his investigation through, and he refused to make a clear commitment.

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