WASHINGTON (CN) – The editor of a prominent law blog filed a federal complaint Friday to find out why President Donald Trump claimed, without supporting evidence, that the majority of terrorism convicts since 9/11 are foreign-born.
Trump pointed to Justice Department data when he made the comment during a Feb. 28 speech before Congress: “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”
But Benjamin Wittes – who filed the complaint – says no such data that he knows of exists to support the claim.
According to the complaint, data previously released by the Justice Department which compiles information on terror convictions, indicates the president’s claim was “highly misleading.”
Wittes himself has commented publicly on the matter, stating in an April 17 post for Lawfare that he believed Trump lied when he claimed most terror convicts are foreign-born, and that he probably also lied about his own Justice Department. According to Wittes, the department’s national security division never provided any evidence to the president to support his claim.
If supporting evidence does exist, Wittes says, the government has kept mum about it.
“To plaintiff’s knowledge, neither the president, nor the Department of Justice, nor any administration official, has publicly released data, analysis, or other written records to substantiate this claim,” the 14-page complaint states.
Wittes says the public has a right to see such data if it does exist – particularly because the president justifies immigration policy on the basis of national security.
In his complaint, Wittes notes Trump cited national security to justify both versions of his executive orders on immigration, which he was busy defending in federal court at the time he made his speech to Congress. He has also used national security to justify building a wall along the border with Mexico.
An internal Department of Homeland Security memo cited in the complaint and first reported on by the Associated Press, however, undercuts Trump’s claim, stating that national origin is unlikely to reliably predict whether someone will commit acts of terrorism.
According to Wittes, the public also deserves to know if the Department of Justice, which is named as a defendant along with the Office of Management and Budget, did not provide the data or gave Trump data runs counter to what he told Congress.
In two separate FOIA requests sent to the Justice Department, its national security division and the Office of Management and Budget on April 14, Wittes asked for any records related to the country of origin or nationality of terror convicts, as well as communications between the Justice Department and the White House concerning such data.
He also asked for similar records used to prepare the president for his February congressional speech, as well as any data that would support the president’s claim.
To date, Wittes claims neither agency has made a determination about whether they will comply with his requests.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the pending litigation. The Office of Management and Budget did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Wittes’ attorneys – Justine Florence and Laurence Schwartztol with Protect Democracy Project Inc. – did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Wittes seeks injunctive relief and court orders requiring the agencies to search for and produce all responsive and nonexempt records promptly.