WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and a conservative political action committee supporting his nomination are the focus of a public-records lawsuit filed earlier this week.
Eight federal agencies or departments are named in the lawsuit filed Tuesday by investigative reporter Jason Leopold, who is requesting information about the Alabama senator and Judicial Crisis Network, which launched the website www.confirmsessions.com in support of Session’s nomination for attorney general.
“Sessions was an early supporter of the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, and was a major policy adviser to the Trump campaign, especially in regard to immigration and national security,” according to the complaint, filed in Washington, D.C., federal court.
Leopold, a prodigious Freedom of Information Act request filer, was joined by co-plaintiff Ryan Noah Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student described as a historian of national security and government transparency.
Leopold and Shapiro say they submitted FOIA requests about Sessions on Jan. 9 to the Army; the military’s central command, or CENTCOM; the Department of State; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Security Agency; the Security and Exchange Commission; and U.S. Secret Service.
According to a Sparrow Project press release, Shapiro and Leopold are seeking, “correspondence and other communications from, to, mentioning, or referring to Jeff Sessions;” records written or signed by Sessions regarding civil rights cases; records constituting, mentioning, or referring to civil rights complaints involving Sessions; and records pertaining to the conservative political action committee Judicial Crisis Network.
“The American public absolutely deserves to 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,” Shapiro said in a statement.
Each request sought expedited processing but as of Tuesday the two men had not received a response from all but two of the agencies, according to the lawsuit.
The Army responded on Jan. 17 acknowledging receipt of the FOIA request but also stated that the request was “very broad” and a search could not be completed with reasonable effort based on the information provided.
On Jan. 12, the State Department also acknowledged receipt of the request but said that the request did not reasonably describe the records sought “and that the request was therefore invalid and the case was being closed,” according to the complaint.
Leopold and Shapiro say the federal government is stonewalling their request for information on Sessions.
“Plaintiffs are deemed to have exhausted their administrative remedies because over 10 calendar days have elapsed without a determination as to whether or not they are entitled to expedited processing,” the complaint states.
Sessions is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Budget Committee, a former ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The lawsuit gives a brief history of Sessions' career, starting from 1975 through 1981 when he was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. From 1981 through 1994, Sessions was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern Alabama.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully nominated Sessions to be a judge for the Southern Alabama federal court.
“Due to Sessions’ history of racist and anti-civil libertarian comments and actions, his nomination was fiercely opposed by the NAACP and other civil rights and civil liberties organizations,” the lawsuit states. Sessions’ nomination was ultimately rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“As with his earlier nomination by President Reagan for federal judgeship, Sessions’ nomination by Trump for U.S. Attorney General has produced heated opposition,” the lawsuit states. “This includes opposition from civil rights and civil libertarian organizations, Democratic lawmakers, and over 1,100 law school professors.”
Criticism of Sessions has centered on his record regarding civil rights and allegations of racism.
The allegations date back to his 1986 confirmation hearings for the Reagan nomination. During those hearings, former colleagues of Sessions testified he referred to the NAACP as “un-American,” and once quipped he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” Other testimony said Sessions had referred to a black assistant U.S. attorney as “boy.”
Sessions has denied the allegations. Colleagues and others have defended Sessions, saying the allegations are false and the criticism is a smear campaign.
Leopold and Shapiro’s lawsuit asks that a judge declare the federal agencies’ failure to comply with their FOIA requests unlawful and asks that their requests for records on Sessions be expedited.
The duo is represented by Jeffrey Light in Washington, D.C.
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