John Solomon sues DOJ, National Archives over access to declassified Trump-Russia probe memos

The suit, brought with help of America First Legal, alleges DOJ is violating the Presidential Records Act by keeping the declassified records from the Archives.

Published: March 21, 2023 8:05pm

Updated: March 21, 2023 8:53pm

Just the News Editor-in-Chief John Solomon sued the Justice Department and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on Tuesday, alleging they have wrongly kept from public inspection hundreds of pages of documents chronicling the FBI's bungled Russia collusion probe that were declassified by former President Donald Trump.

Solomon's suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. with help from the nonprofit America First Legal public interest law firm. It alleged that the two federal agencies were violating the Presidential Records Act by keeping the declassified Russia probe documents out of the Archives' official collection for the Trump presidency.

"This is a case about two government agencies apparently colluding to evade the Presidential Records Act," the lawsuit said, asking the court to "recover the records wrongfully withheld and to force the defendants to comply with the law."

The suit included contemporaneous emails from a top Archives official last August acknowledging that the declassified records should be returned by DOJ "as quickly as possible, so that we can all have a fully releasable set of records."

You can read the full lawsuit here.

NARA told Just the News on Tuesday that it doesn't "comment on litigation matters." The DOJ didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stephen Miller, the president of America First Legal and a former Trump adviser, said a court-ordered return of the declassified records to the Archives was necessary for public transparency and accountability.

"It is hard to identify a more glaring example of the deep state weaponizing government against the American People than unelected bureaucrats refusing to release the records of the Russia collusion hoax after they have been ordered declassified by the duly-elected President of the United States," Miller said. "America First Legal is truly proud to lead the legal battle to restore true democracy and government accountability in America."

After multiple congressional and Justice Department investigations concluded that the FBI engaged in misconduct and mistakes by seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant targeting the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, Trump signed an order in his final hours in office in January 2021 declassifying hundreds of pages of previously redacted or secret records.

They included FBI interactions with confidential human sources like former British spy Christopher Steele, whose Hillary Clinton-funded uncorroborated dossier became a centerpiece of the FBI Russia collusion probe and a symbol of its biggest failures. It also included more complete copies of the FISA warrant application and text messages between FBI players in the case.

Though Trump ordered the records released, the full set did not reach the public. Solomon obtained a few of the documents from sources in early 2021 and wrote stories on what they showed, but the complete set was never made public. 

Solomon asked for permission in June 2022 from Trump to access his presidential documents at the Archives as a journalist to look for the declassified Russia records. However, when Solomon asked to access the memos from the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation, NARA's general counsel explained that the DOJ has held onto them for the past two years to make redactions of some personally identifiable information under the Privacy Act.

The Archives produced to Solomon a memo showing that the morning of Trump's departure from the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sent the declassified documents back to the FBI for the redactions with an instruction to release them as soon as the deletions were made.

"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.

The records were never released.

Solomon said Tuesday that the Archives told him the DOJ still had not returned the memos. He said he hoped his lawsuit would prompt the public release of all the documents in the near future.

"I sought permission to access these documents nearly a year ago at the Archives as a journalist because these records have significant benefit to the American public," Solomon said. "An American president believed they were important enough to declassify so the public would understand the missteps and failures that occurred during the FBI investigation of Russia collusion.

"They are historical records of a presidency that, as NARA acknowledged to me, belong in the Archives and in the hands of the American public," he added. "I am grateful for America First Legal's help on this matter and look forward to compelling the disclosure of these records for all to see."

The lawsuit comes at a particularly sensitive time for the DOJ and the Archives, as both Trump and current President Joe Biden face criminal investigations after the discovery of classified documents in their possession. One issue in those investigations -- which led to an FBI raid of Trump's Mar-A-Lago estate and consensual searches of multiple Biden properties -- is whether the storage of those documents outside the Archives violated the Presidential Records Act, officials have said.

Solomon's lawsuit chronicles in detail the events that ensued after Trump on Jan. 19, 2021 declassified a binder of hundreds of pages of sensitive FBI documents from the "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation.

On June 19, 2022, Trump designated his former adviser, Kash Patel, and Solomon as his representatives to the NARA to access those records, according to a copy of the letter attached to the lawsuit.

Three days later, Solomon requested that NARA make copies of the declassified documents from the Trump-Russia collusion probe, but NARA said that the DOJ still had them.

Over the following two months, NARA, Solomon, and Patel corresponded over access to the documents.

On Aug. 17, 2022, NARA General Counsel Gary Stern told Solomon that he "asked DOJ to complete its review" of the declassified documents "as quickly as possible, so that we can all have a fully releasable set of records."

"To date, the National Archives has not indicated that the records have been returned," according to the lawsuit.

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