Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Activists and Journalists Have Sued the FBI for Withholding Donald Trump’s File

Washington, DC — The nonprofit transparency organization Property of the People has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking the release of Donald J. Trump’s FBI file.  The records requested, which cover a period from June 14, 1946 through June 15, 2015, will shed new light on already known investigations linking Trump to organized crime and will provide new information about Trump’s engagements with the bureau.

The effort is part of Property of the People’s Operation 45, a project dedicated to seeking transparency and accountability from the Trump administration. Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate, and investigative reporter Jason Leopold, are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

It has been nearly three months since Property of the People first filed their request to the FBI seeking, among other things, as the request states: “[a]ny and all records mentioning or referring to the living person Donald John Trump.”

Though the FBI has previously released multiple documents with Trump’s name on them from the period stated to Shapiro and Leopold, they have improperly withheld records from this most recent request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would infringe on Trump’s privacy. However, Operation 45 argues that the enormous public interest in obtaining this information clearly outweighs any embarrassment Trump might suffer. Additionally Trump’s own tweets acknowledging the FBI’s investigation of him negate any arguments that such records may not exist.

Moreover, the FBI has improperly withheld records from this request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would “risk circumvention of Federal law enforcement efforts.”  As stated in the complaint:

“Confirming that the FBI maintains files numbered 137-NY-19967 and 137-22152 would not disclose techniques, procedures, or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. Additionally, documents referencing file numbers 137-22152 and 137-NY-19967 in connection with the FBI’s contact with Mr. Trump are already available to the public. The disclosure of the mere existence or nonexistence of responsive records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. The FBI has not only unreasonably withheld the responsive records, but has unreasonably refused to even confirm the existence of responsive records.”

Plaintiff Shapiro asserts: “Given the profound gravity of the FBI’s past and ongoing investigations involving Donald J. Trump, the public interest in the release of the requested documents is immense. The American public absolutely deserves to know the full truth about the FBI’s historical and current operations involving the President.”

Property of the People vs. Department of Justice, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The complaint can be read in it’s entirety HERE.

Property of the People is anew government transparency non-profit. Their project, Operation 45, dedicated to uncovering records relevant to the public interest concerning the current Presidential administration has been described by The Nation as “a ray of hope in these dark political times.” Operation 45 is on twitter @opfortyfive

Ryan Shapiro is the director of Operation 45 and the co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” He is a historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Buzzfeed News, specializing in counterterrorism and human rights. Leopold has been called a “FOIA Terrorist” by federal employees for his aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act, which includes successfully suing the FBI to force changes to Bureau FOIA practices. Leopold is on twitter @JasonLeopold.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist, Jeffrey Light.

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  1. I arrived at this page, on this site, via a Tweet by a The Nation reporter, so you can imagine the impression I got from reading in this text a citation of The Nation. Question: how is it that this Operation’s stated mission is something that other journo orgs can and usually do perform? With the recent blockages at White House pressers, I can’t picture your Operation doing any better than any one of them, or they put together, have already done. Please explain, thanks.

    • Clara,

      Your concerns around the blockages are well founded. Any and all news organizations should engage in FOIA litigation where stymied by the admin, and many of them are. What sets the Operation 45 team apart is that Ryan, Jeff, and Sara are among the countries leading strategists and litigants of FOIA in the courtroom. Their past efforts have exfiltrated responsive records and revelations that have been used as source material for pretty much every top outlet in the country. They are also not doing this in a bubble; large media outlets have on several occasions joined them as co-plaintiffs in their litigation.

      In this specific case I believe they will be successful in producing a great deal of responsive records many of which will be used in reporting over the next few months.

      Since Sparrow only does communications for Operation 45 I encourage you to also check out their microsite dedicated to this effort: https://www.operationfortyfive.org

      I hope this was somewhat helpful!