Tag Archives: ryan shapiro

8 Federal Agencies Sued for Records on Trump Attorney General Pick, Jeff Sessions

8 Federal Agencies Sued for Records on Trump Attorney General Pick, Jeff Sessions

WASHINGTON, DC — Multiple federal agencies are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro, filed a lawsuit this morning against the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of State (DOS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Security Agency (NSA). The suit is over the agencies’ failure to comply with Shapiro and Leopold’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Shapiro and Leopold submitted FOIA requests to the DOJ, DOS, DHS, DOD, SEC, EEOC, EPA, and NSA for records pertaining to President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General is one of the most controversial in American history. Sessions has an extensive track record of opposition to civil rights and civil rights activists, and has decried the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Hounded for decades by allegations of deep-rooted racism, Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 by the Senate Judiciary Committee partially on the sworn statement of a DOJ attorney who testified that Sessions spoke favorably of the Ku Klux Klan and decried the NAACP and ACLU as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” organizations. Further, the Republicans are forcing President Trump’s nominees through the confirmation process with only the most limited and superficial of hearings.

The records Shapiro and Leopold have sued over today will help shed light on the often obscured detailed of Sessions’ history as a state and federal Attorney General and as lawmaker.

1.) Records sought by Shapiro and Leopold include but are not limited to:

* Correspondence and other communications from, to, mentioning, or referring to Jeff Sessions. 

* Records authored or signed by Jeff Sessions regarding Civil Rights cases.

* Records constituting, mentioning, or referring to Civil Rights complaints involving Jeff Sessions

* Records pertaining to the conservative political action committee (PAC) Judicial Crisis Network, which is dedicated to securing confirmation of Sessions as Attorney General.

* Records pertaining to confirmsession.com, a website and project of Judicial Crisis Network dedicated to securing confirmation of Sessions as Attorney General.

2.) Due to the urgency of the matter, Shapiro and Leopold requested expedited processing of their FOIA requests. The DOJ, DOS, DHS, DOD, SEC, EEOC, EPA, and NSA failed to respond. This is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

3.) Not including this new lawsuit, Shapiro and Leopold already have four FOIA lawsuits against the FBI and other federal agencies for records on investigations involving Donald Trump.

In the first of these lawsuits, among other things, Operation 45 is suing the FBI and Secret Service for records on Donald Trump’s thinly-veiled assassination remarks regarding Hillary Clinton, and his less than veiled campaign trail call for Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI unlawfully failed to respond to Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request, and then slow-walked an initial response to Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit until after the election.

Notably, the FBI’s response indicates the FBI might indeed be investigating Donald Trump for these incidents. However, in stark contrast to Director Comey’s pre-election rush to inform Congress that the FBI might re-open its investigation of Hillary Clinton, in this case the FBI dragged its feet to avoid revealing the same about Donald Trump until after the election.

4.) In the second of these lawsuits, Operation 45 is suing the FBI for all FBI records on the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, Trump Entertainment Resorts, and Trump University.

5.) In the third of these lawsuits, Operation 45 is suing the FBI for records on the FBI’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

6.) In the fourth of these lawsuits, Operation 45 is suing, the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for records on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as U.S. intelligence agency responses to Russian interference in the election.

7.) Shapiro and Leopold’s lawsuit filed today is part of the work of Operation 45. Operation 45 is a new 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded by MIT/Harvard’s Shapiro, and attorney Jeffrey Light, to ensure transparency and accountability for the incoming Trump/Pence administration.

Ryan Shapiro, referred to by Politico as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”, is an 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 a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, as well as a Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

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 and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

According to Shapiro

Regarding this lawsuit:

“The American public absolutely deserves to the know the truth about the man Trump has nominated to hold one of the most powerful offices in the country, especially in light of the allegations of deep-rooted prejudice and contempt for civil liberties that have hounded Sessions for decades.”

Regarding Operation 45 (Of which this lawsuit is a part):

“Given Trump’s authoritarian aspirations and overt contempt for the Constitution and a free press, American civil liberties and privacy now face a profoundly clear and present danger.

“Trump must not be allowed to conduct his presidency from the shadows, and he must not be allowed to cripple the Freedom of Information act. The need is urgent for aggressive work to keep President Trump and his administration transparent and accountable.”

Regarding FOIA more broadly:

“Secrecy is a cancer on the body of democracy.

“The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of the most underappreciated elements of the entire American experiment. The notion that the records of government are the property of the people, and all we need to do to get them is to ask, is radically democratic. But FOIA is broken. Sadly, this is why we now need to sue to compel FBI compliance with federal law.”

A complete copy of the complaint filed in court can be viewed HERE

To arrange an interview with Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. You can follow Jason Leopold on twitter at @JasonLeopold and Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

CIA, FBI, DHS and ODNI Sued for Records on Russian Interference in 2016 Election

CIA, FBI, DHS and ODNI Sued for Records on Russian Interference in 2016 Election

WASHINGTON, DC — The CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro, filed a lawsuit yesterday against the FBI, CIA, DHS, and ODNI. The suit is over the agencies’ failures to comply with Shapiro and Leopold’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA requests and lawsuit:

Shapiro and Leopold submitted FOIA requests to the CIA, FBI, DHS, and ODNI for records pertaining to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as records pertaining to U.S. intelligence agency operations involving any such Russian interference.

Shapiro and Leopold seek these records in order to shed light on critical unknowns such as:

* What information on Russian interference did U.S. intelligence agencies possess, and when did they possess it?

* How did this information differ by agency?

* How did analysis of this information, and response proposals based upon that analysis, differ by agency?

* How did U.S. intelligence agencies communicate and coordinate with each other regarding the issue of Russian interference?

* Both officially and unofficially, how did U.S. intelligence agencies communicate and coordinate with outside entities and individuals regarding the issue of Russian interference?

1.) Records sought by Shapiro and Leopold include but are not limited to:

FBI Sued for Records on Agency’s Role in Trump Victory

FBI Sued for Records on Agency’s Role in Trump Victory

WASHINGTON, DC — The FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate/Harvard Klein Center for Internet & Society research affiliate, Ryan Shapiro, filed a lawsuit this morning against the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The suit is over the FBI’s failure to comply with Shapiro and Leopold’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on the FBI’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Jason Leopold is an award-winning Senior Investigative Reporter at Vice 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.

Ryan Shapiro, referred to by Politico as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”, is an 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 a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at MIT, as well as a Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Leopold and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Six key elements of Shapiro and Leopold’s FOIA request & lawsuit:

1.) Leopold and Shapiro submitted a FOIA request to the FBI for records on a wide range of records pertaining to FBI operations involving the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This includes but is not limited to all records on:

* The FBI’s investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email & private server

* The FBI’s investigations of the Clinton Foundation

* FBI Director Comey’s communications with Congress regarding the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email & private server

* Allegations of FBI violations of the Hatch Act in the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election

* Internal discontent at the FBI regarding the FBI’s Clinton investigations

* All leaks of information by the FBI to the press and political operatives about FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton

* All FBI communications with Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, Corey R. Lewandowski, Fox News, Bret Baier, Sean Hannity; & Rudy Giuliani

* Richard Spencer, the National Policy Institute, & the “alt-right”

Outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller Wants to Kill the FOIA Reform Act

Outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller Wants to Kill the FOIA Reform Act

Washington, DC — Outgoing Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is single-handedly attempting to kill a critical governmental transparency bill. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 (S. 2520) is the product of over six months of bipartisan work that would enact desperately needed reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill enjoys overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle and its passage is almost certain. Or at least it would be if it could only come up for a vote. Despite a very similar bill passing the House 410-0, and also passing unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Rockefeller placed an 11th hour hold on the bill this Thursday.

Sen. Rockefeller refused to comment on his hold for more than 24 hours, and then finally issued a vague and equivocating statement Friday evening after most newsrooms had already closed. If Rockefeller doesn’t lift his ill-considered hold by Monday, the bill dies. Journalists, scholars, open government advocates, and watchdog organizations are decrying Rockefeller’s hold as a threat to the fundamental democratic principle of an informed citizenry.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the landmark legislation that allows for public access to government records. But since its initial passage in 1966, many governmental agencies have routinely attempted to avoid compliance with FOIA’s provisions. As a result, Congress has repeatedly amended FOIA to better ensure the American people can learn what their government is doing and why. In light of continued systemic agency FOIA abuses, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 is designed to again further safeguard the public’s right to know.

What the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 Will Do:

Critically, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 targets rampant agency abuse of FOIA exemption b(5), commonly derided as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. As it currently stands, FOIA exemption b(5) is worded so broadly it allows an agency to withhold any “interagency or intra-agency communication,” as well as any document purported by an agency to be a “draft.” This language covers such a wide swath of records that agencies routinely invoke b(5) to prevent the otherwise required release of potentially embarrassing documents.

For example, the CIA, as supported by the Department of Justice, is currently invoking FOIA exemption b(5) to prevent release of its secret internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. The CIA claims this document is actually a “draft,” and therefore its release “could confuse the public.” The FOIA Improvement Act would put a 25-year per-document limit on agency invocation of b(5), thereby securing release of the CIA’s secret internal history of one of the most disastrous U.S. military adventures of the 20th Century.

Among other sorely needed amendments, the FOIA Improvement Act will also protect FOIA requestors from the exorbitant fees many agencies charge as a means to discourage FOIA requests. Since FOIA’s initial passage, Congress has repeatedly amended the act to prevent agency use of excessive fees as “‘toll gates’ on the public access road to information.” Sadly many agencies, prominently including the FBI and CIA, shamelessly continue this practice. For example, the FOIA amendments in the OPEN Government Act of 2007 forbid agencies from assessing duplication fees if an agency fails to meet its statutory deadlines for compliance with a FOIA request. However, an ambiguity in the language of the 2007 amendments has allowed agencies to continue this problematic practice unhindered. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 will remove this ambiguity, thereby preventing agencies from charging duplication fees for FOIA most requests in which an agency has failed to meet its statutorily required deadlines.

Some Key Points About The FOIA Improvement Act and Sen. Rockefeller’s Hold:

The FOIA Improvement Act seeks to better ensure that government agencies must comply with the landmark Freedom of Information Act.

The FOIA Improvement Act is a bipartisan bill with support from a wide mix of Senators, and the support of more than 75 open government, journalistic, scholarly, and national security organizations.

The reforms included in the bill are reasonable reforms aimed at addressing the real world problems requesters face trying to use the process to better understand what the federal government is doing and why.

Senators Leahy and Corny worked to address concerns of other Senators over six months; Sen. Rockefeller’s raising concerns at the 11th hour can only serve to kill the bill.

Sen. Rockefeller’s office refused to comment on the hold for more than 24 hours, not releasing a statement until after most newsrooms had closed on a Friday night.

Contrary to what is implied in Sen. Rockefeller’s vague statement attempting to justify his hold, nothing in the bill provides defendants ways to obstruct or delay investigations.

Senator Rockefeller’s hold will only serve to help agencies cover up their failures, embarrassments, and even crimes against the American people.

Supporters of the FOIA Improvement Act call upon concerned citizens to strongly (but politely) urge Sen. Rockefeller on Twitter and Facebook to drop his dangerous and misinformed hold.

According to Amy Bennett, Assistant Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, the coalition organization spearheading the push for passage of the FOIA Improvement Act:

“Unfounded references to possible unintended consequences cannot be allowed to stop a reform bill that would undoubtedly help the public. This bill was carefully put together by Senator Leahy and Senator Cornyn, who have worked together to strengthen FOIA for the last decade, and unanimously passed by the Judiciary Committee. The bottom-line for the tons of FOIA experts from inside and outside government that have vetted this bill is the same: it is a good bill and should be signed into law.”

According to Nate Jones, FOIA Coordinator for the National Security Archive at George Washington University:

“The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 will make it easier for everyday Americans to use the law to request and receive documents. For Sen. Rockefeller to end 30 years of service with a nontransparent hold on a FOIA bill and a Facebook press release after close of business hours on a Friday night just doesn’t make sense. This is especially the case as the bill is backed by over 70 good governance organizations which Sen. Rockefeller has supported throughout his entire career.”

According to Ryan Shapiro, a transparency researcher and FOIA specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of the most underappreciated elements of the entire American experiment. The notion that the records of government are the property of the people, and all we need to do to get them is to ask for them, is radically democratic. But FOIA is broken, and as a result federal agencies routinely exploit loopholes in the law. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 is a vital step in closing these loopholes. Unless Sen. Rockefeller wants to be remembered as a champion of governmental secrecy and obfuscation, he must lift his ill-considered hold immediately.”

To arrange an interview with Amy Bennett of OpenTheGovernment.org, please email abennett@openthegovernment.org or call 703-475-9388