WASHINGTON, D.C. – Empower Oversight has filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking to compel it to provide documents related to the independence of Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into wrongdoing in the origins of the Trump-Russia probe and the 2016 election. At issue are two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from 2021, dated July 12 and August 19.
“Empower Oversight has been incredibly patient in attempting to work with the Justice Department since last summer. 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. If the DOJ simply complied voluntarily and timely with its FOIA obligations, litigation like this would not be necessary to enforce the transparency required by law,”Empower Oversight Founder and President Jason Foster
The initial FOIA request filed by Empower Oversight on July 12, 2021 was related to the DOJ’s hiring of Susan Hennessey as a senior official in the Department’s National Security Division (NSD), which according to the DOJ “supervises the investigation and prosecution of cases affecting or relating to national security, including any cases involving foreign interference in elections or violent extremist threats to elections,” like Special Counsel Durham’s investigation.
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Prior to her appointment, Ms. Hennessey deleted thousands of tweets from her Twitter account, including posts that had disparaged the investigation run by Special Counsel Durham, raising serious questions about her ability to remain objective.
On June 29, 2021, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland about their concerns with Hennessey in her new role. Senator Grassley has been quoted as saying,
“I’ve raised concerns about potential conflicts of several Biden Justice Department officials and can’t get a straight answer from the attorney general.”Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
Additionally, Ms. 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. Danchenko is one of many links between Brookings and the matters under investigation by Durham.
Under its initial FOIA request, Empower Oversight sought documents related to Ms. 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 Special Counsel Durham’s probe.
A month after the initial FOIA request, Empower Oversight filed another FOIA request on August 19 seeking information on Attorney General Garland’s commitment to fully funding the budget of Special Counsel Durham. During his confirmation hearing, Garland 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. Additionally, the DOJ was unresponsive when asked by the Congress if Durham’s investigation would continue to be funded. In its August 2021 FOIA request, Empower Oversight sought all records of any communications regarding the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the Durham investigation in order to get a clearer picture for the public regarding the potential for interference with the Special Counsel’s independence.
Empower Oversight has since had several communications with the DOJ regarding these requests. On December 7th, 2021, Empower Oversight sent a letter to the DOJ’s analyst and FOIA public liaison seeking the status of those requests. After additional discussions and negotiations outlined in its complaint, the DOJ has failed respond or produce any documents. Thus, Empower Oversight has filed a lawsuit in order to gain access to the documents that were requested half a year ago.
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.
Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research (EMPOWR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to enhancing independent oversight of government and corporate wrongdoing. EMPOWR works to help insiders document and report corruption to the proper authorities while also seeking to hold authorities accountable to act on those reports.