WASHINGTON (CN) – Bashing the FBI for equivocating on whether it has pre-election records on President Donald Trump, a government-transparency group brought a federal complaint to spur action.
Ryan Shapiro filed the June 18 lawsuit in Washington with his group, Property of the People Inc., and with investigative reporter Jason Leopold.
The men say they faxed the FBI on March 16, 2017, a request under the Freedom of Information Act for any records dating back to June 14, 1946 — the day of Trump’s birth — to June 15, 2015.
With the FBI refusing to confirm or deny the existence of such records, Shapiro and Leopold appealed to the Office of Public Information. They say the OIP missed the 20-day window to respond, so a federal judge should intervene.
Calling the FBI’s silence improper, Shapiro and Leopold argue that Trump’s privacy interest is minimal, both as the president and his prior status as a celebrity real estate mogul.
“Additionally, Mr. Trump has further diminished his privacy interest by speaking publicly about contacts he has had with the FBI,” the complaint states. “For example, in an article describing his connections with organized crime, Mr. Trump told The Washington Post that he met with FBI agents in April 1981.”
Shapiro and Leopold also call the public interest in such records enormous, saying it “clearly outweighs any embarrassment [Trump] might suffer from his name being associated with FBI investigation.”
“The FBI has a statutory duty to investigate criminal conduct, and the existence or nonexistence of records about Mr. Trump prior to the election would indicate whether or not the FBI was as diligent in investigating Mr. Trump as it was of less prominent citizens,” the complaint states. “The FBI’s substantive law enforcement policy is also a matter of great public concern.”
More to the point, the men claim, the FBI has previously released responsive records in answer to previous requests, and some of those records even contained Trump’s name unredacted.
“The FBI has not only unreasonably withheld the responsive records, but has unreasonably refused to even confirm the existence of responsive records,” the complaint states.
In addition to the general request for records on Trump, Shapiro and Leopold also identified five FBI case numbers and asked for the associated files.
The FBI missed the deadline to respond to requests about three of those case numbers, while it issued what is known as a Glomar response for the other two, refusing to confirm or deny the existence of these records. When put to a simple Google search, however, those two file numbers produce an FBI memorandum about Trump dated 1981.
How the 5-page document became public is unclear. Leopold and Shapiro’s attorney Jeffrey Light said in a phone interview that his clients want to see the full files in case they contain more information about Trump.
A press release about the lawsuit from Operation 45, which is dedicated to the transparency and accountability of the Trump administration, claims the lawsuit 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.”
Shapiro, a historian who is working for his doctoral degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a member of Operation 45, as is Light.
The attorney said access to the documents will also shed light on the FBI’s role and function.
“The goal is to find out over the years what the relationship with the FBI has been like, as well as to find out what the FBI’s priorities have been,” Light said.
A representative for the Justice Department declined to comment on pending litigation.
Attorney Light said the bureau’s Glomar response is inappropriate. “That’s why we’re suing,” Light said.