FOIA request

October 23, 2019 – Judicial Watch: The State Department uses a Soros-linked social media tracking tool to monitor journalists, Trump allies and it’s called Crowdtangle

“The State Department utilized a powerful Facebook-owned social media tracking tool linked to leftist billionaire George Soros to unlawfully monitor prominent U.S. conservative figures, journalists and persons with ties to President Donald Trump, according to an agency source. The State Department veteran identified Crowdtangle as the tool used to closely watch more than a dozen U.S. citizens, including the president’s son, personal attorney and popular television personalities such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, among others.

Last week Judicial Watch launched an investigation into the unlawful monitoring, which State Department sources say was conducted by the agency in Ukraine at the request of ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, an Obama appointee. Judicial Watch has obtained information indicating Yovanovitch may have violated laws and government regulations by ordering subordinates to target certain U.S. persons using State Department resources. Yovanovitch reportedly ordered monitoring keyed to the following search terms: Biden, Giuliani, Soros and Yovanovitch. Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department last week and continues gathering facts from government sources. This week Judicial Watch filed another FOIA request for information related to the State Department’s use of Crowdtangle.

A private, invitation-only engine, Crowdtangle describes itself as a leading content discovery and social monitoring platform that can help identify influencers and track rivals. It was launched in 2011 to organize activism via social media and Facebook purchased it in 2016. Crowdtangle monitors more than 5 million social media accounts and uses dashboards to track keywords, data and specific topics across platforms. For years Facebook has made Crowdtangle available to the mainstream media and in January founder and CEO Brandon Silverman announced he will give access to select academics and researchers in order to help counter misinformation and abuse of social media platforms. “To date, Crowdtangle has been available primarily to help newsrooms and media publishers understand what is happening on the platform,” Silverman writes. “We’re eager to make it available to this important new set of partners and help continue to provide more transparency into how information is being spread on social media.”

A leftwing, Soros-funded organization called Social Science Research Center (SSRC) is charged with determining who is granted access to Crowdtangle. Earlier this year Facebook announced that SSRC will pick researchers who will gain access to its cherished “privacy-protected” data. The statement assures that “Facebook did not play any role in the selection of the individuals or their projects and will have no role in directing the findings or conclusions of the research.” That is left up to the SSRC, which claims that selected researchers will use privacy-protected Facebook data to “study the platform’s impact on democracy worldwide.” The nonprofit describes itself as an international organization guided by the belief that “justice, prosperity, and democracy all require a better understanding of complex social, cultural, economic, and political processes.” In 2016 Soros’s Open Society Foundations gave the SSRC nearly $500,000 for a Latin America human rights and public health initiative and a global “equality and antidiscrimination” program.

The 2018 Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy report confirms that the State Department uses Crowdtangle and considers it an important tool for social media managers to conduct official agency business worldwide. The State Department’s head of Public Diplomacy training also encourages the use of Crowdtangle to educate personnel about polling data consumption and “the difference between impression and reach.” The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) actually includes a link to Crowdtangle and reveals the agency uses it to track social media posts. Nevertheless, ordering subordinates to target certain U.S. persons, as sources say Yovanovitch did, using State Department resources would constitute a violation of laws and government regulations. “This is not an obscure rule, everyone in public diplomacy or public affairs knows they can’t make lists and monitor U.S. citizens unless there is a major national security reason,” a senior State Department official told Judicial Watch last week when the story broke.” (Judicial Watch, 10/23/2019)

January 10, 2019 – Judicial Watch to depose former top officials involved in the Clinton email scandal

Judicial Watch announced today that it submitted a court-ordered discovery plan for the depositions of several top former government officials involved in the Clinton email scandal, including Obama administration senior officials Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Jacob Sullivan, and FBI official E.W. Priestap.

Judicial Watch “intends to update the Court regarding the depositions of Hillary Clinton and Cheryl Mills at the conclusion of the 16-week discovery period, unless the Court believes such notice is not necessary.” The plan for discovery is the latest development in Judicial Watch’s July 2014 FOIA lawsuit filed after the U.S. Department of State failed to respond to a May 13, 2014 FOIA request (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01242)). Read the discovery plan here:

November 9, 2018 “James Comey discusses sensitive FBI business on his private email

(…) “The Cause of Action Institute, a conservative watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit for Comey’s Gmail correspondence involving his work for the bureau.

The Justice Department responded that there were an eye-popping 1,200 pages of messages for Comey and his chief of staff that met the criteria.

Justice released 156 of them but refused to hand over seven emails because they would “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.” And another 363 pages of emails were withheld because they discussed privileged agency communications or out of personal privacy concerns.

Cause of Action’s CEO slammed the former top G-man for minimizing the work he did using his private account. “Using private email to conduct official government business endangers transparency and accountability, and that is why we sued the Department of Justice,” said John Vecchione.

“We’re deeply concerned that the FBI withheld numerous emails citing FOIA’s law enforcement exemption. This runs counter to Comey’s statements that his use of email was incidental and never involved any sensitive matters.”

(Credit: The New York Post)

“In one email on Oct. 7, 2015, Comey seems to recognize the hypocrisy of the FBI investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices while he’s exchanging FBI info on his own private account because his government account was down.

Two days after complaining that his “mobile is not sending emails,” Comey asked an aide that the testimony he was to deliver to the Senate be sent on his private account — calling it an “embarrassing” situation.

“He [aide] will need to send to personal email I suppose,” Comey wrote. “Embarrassing for us.”

Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government, a nonpartisan coalition that advocates for government transparency, said Comey’s practice of using personal email while investigating Clinton reeks of a double standard.

“It’s just so transparently hypocritical to have one standard for a person you are investigating and an entirely different standard for yourself when you are the one who’s enforcing the law,” Rosenberg said.” (Read more: New York Post, 11/09/2018)

October 12, 2018 – Federal judge Royce Lamberth is ‘shocked’ Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was granted immunity by the Justice Department

Judge Royce C. Lamberth (Credit: Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)

“Judicial Watch announced today that in his opening remarks at a Friday, October 12 hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth strongly criticized the U.S. Department of State, stating, “The information that I was provided was clearly false regarding the adequacy of the [Clinton email] search and… what we now know turned out to be the Secretary’s email system.”

Turning his attention to the Department of Justice, Judge Lamberth said that he was “dumbfounded” by the agency’s Inspector General report revealing that Cheryl Mills had been given immunity and was allowed to accompany former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her FBI interview:

I had myself found that Cheryl Mills had committed perjury and lied under oath in a published opinion I had issued in a Judicial Watch case where I found her unworthy of belief, and I was quite shocked to find out she had been given immunity in — by the Justice Department in the Hillary Clinton email case. So I did not know that until I read the IG report and learned that and that she had accompanied the Secretary to her interview.

(In an April 28, 2008 ruling relating to Mills’ conduct as a White House official in responding to concerns about lost White House email records, Judge Lamberth called Mills’ participation in the matter “loathsome.” He further stated Mills was responsible for “the most critical error made in this entire fiasco … Mills’ actions were totally inadequate to address the problem.”)

Lamberth also complained that the Justice Department attorney representing the State Department was using “doublespeak,” and playing “word games.”

The hearing had been ordered by Judge Lamberth regarding a request from Judicial Watch for testimony under oath from Clinton, Mills and several other State Department officials regarding the State Department’s processing of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request and Clinton’s emails. The State Department still opposes all of Judicial Watch’s requests for additional discovery into the Clinton email scandal.

Judge Lamberth said he was relieved that he did not allow the case to be shut down prematurely, as the State Department had requested.

The case started with a motion for summary judgment [seeking to close the case] here and which I denied and allowed limited discovery because it was clear to me that at the time that I ruled initially, that false statements were made to me by career State Department officials and it became more clear through discovery that the information that I was provided was clearly false regarding the adequacy of the search and this – what we now know turned out to be the Secretary’s email system.

I don’t know the details of what kind of IG inquiry there was into why these career officials at the State Department would have filed false affidavits with me. I don’t know the details of why the Justice Department lawyers did not know false affidavits were being filed with me, but I was very relieved that I did not accept them and that I allowed limited discovery into what had happened.

Judge Lamberth also said the State Department was using “doublespeak” and word games. (Read more: Judicial Watch, 10/12/2018)

October 4, 2018 – The NSA has 32 pages of communications connected to Seth Rich and all are classified as Top Secret or Secret

Attorney Ty Clevenger files a FOIA request with the NSA in November, 2017 for the communication records of Seth Rich. Here are the specific documents Clevenger requests:

The NSA responded to Ty Clevenger in a letter dated October 4, 2018 stating:

Executive Order 13526, Section 1.4, Subparagraph (c) reads as follows:

It is not clear if the Seth Rich documents found by the NSA are connected to Julian Assange because there are many other names listed in the FOIA request that could be connected to the documents.

(NSA letter, 10/04/2018)

September 11, 2018 – Judicial Watch sues to retrieve emails the FBI found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop

(Credit: Liberty One News)

Judicial Watch announced today that it has sued the U.S. Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for all emails the FBI found on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Judicial Watch filed the suit after the Justice Department did not act on two FOIA requests (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No.1:18-cv-02105)).

In October 2016 The Washington Post reported that the FBI obtained a warrant to search the emails found on a computer used by Weiner that may contain evidence relevant to the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

In light of that report, on December 12, 2016, Judicial Watch submitted a FOIA request to the FBI, seeking all emails seized pursuant to the search warrant. The FBI denied the request and Judicial Watch appealed. The FBI has not acted on the appeal. Judicial Watch then filed a second FOIA request on September 29, 2017, to which the FBI has not responded.

Weiner is the incarcerated husband of former Clinton top aide Huma Abedin. He was convicted of having sexually explicit communications with teenage girls. In October 2016, FBI investigators from its New York field office discovered Abedin’s emails on Weiner’s laptop, including data indicating the emails went through Clinton’s non-“state.gov” email system.

A separate Judicial Watch lawsuit already uncovered at least 18 classified emails from the Clinton server on the Weiner laptop

“The Anthony Weiner laptop-Clinton email cover-up by the Obama DOJ and FBI is central to uncovering the corrupt politicization of those agencies,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The same FBI that provided cover for Hillary Clinton was going full bore against then-candidate Trump and this lawsuit aims to uncover the full truth about that corruption.”

RealClearInvestigations’ reporter Paul Sperry recently reported that “only 3,077 of the 694,000 emails [found on the Weiner laptop] were directly reviewed for classified or incriminating information. Three FBI officials completed that work in a single 12-hour spurt the day before Comey again cleared Clinton of criminal charges.” (Read more: Judicial Watch, 9/11/2018)

August 18, 2018 – Judge rules the FBI must respond to FOIA request for documents that show the Steele Dossier was verified

“The FBI has been dealt a major blow after a Washington DC judge ruled that the agency must respond to a FOIA request for documents concerning the bureau’s efforts to verify the controversial Steele Dossier, before it was used as the foundation of a FISA surveillance warrant application and subsequent renewals.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta (Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/The National Law Journal)

US District Court Judge Amit Mehta – who in January sided with the FBI’s decision to ignore the FOIA request, said that President Trump’s release of two House Intelligence Committee documents (the “Nunes” and “Schiff” memos) changed everything.

Considering that the FBI offered Steele $50,000 to verify the Dossier’s claims yet never paid him, BuzzFeed has unsuccessfully tried to do the same to defend themselves in a dossier-related lawsuit, and a $50 million Soros-funded investigation to continue the hunt have turned up nothing that we know of – whatever documents the FBI may be forced to cough up regarding their attempts to verify the Dossier could prove highly embarrassing for the agency.

“But then the ground shifted,” writes Mehta of Trump declassifying the House memos. “As a result of the Nunes and Schiff Memos, there is now in the public domain meaningful information about how the FBI acquired the Dossier and how the agency used it to investigate Russian meddling.”

The DOJ also sought to distinguish between the Steele Dossier and a synopsis of the dossier presented to both Trump and then-President Obama in 2016, however Mehta rejected the attempt, writing “That position defies logic,” while also rejecting the government’s refusal to even say if the FBI has a copy of that synopsis.

“It remains no longer logical nor plausible for the FBI to maintain that it cannot confirm nor deny the existence of documents,” Mehta wrote.

“It is simply not plausible to believe that, to whatever extent the FBI has made efforts to verify Steele’s reporting, some portion of that work has not been devoted to allegations that made their way into the synopsis. After all, if the reporting was important enough to brief the President-elect, then surely the FBI thought enough of those key charges to attempt to verify their accuracy. It will be up to the FBI to determine which of the records in its possession relating to the reliability of the Dossier concerns Steele’s reporting as discussed in the synopsis.”

“This ruling represents another incremental step in revealing just how much the FBI has been able to verify or discredit the rather personal allegations contained in that synopsis derived from the Steele dossier,” said Brad Moss, a lawyer pressing the lawsuit for the pro-transparency group, the James Madison Project. “It will be rather ironic if the president’s peripheral actions that resulted in this ruling wind up disclosing that the FBI has been able to corroborate any of the ‘salacious’ allegations.” (Read more: Zero Hedge, 8/18/2018)

April 28, 2018 – FBI delays release of communications with firm that examined DNC servers

Crowdstrike Logo (Credit: Crowdstrike)

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has pushed back the estimated completion date of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents pertaining to its communications with the security firm that examined the Democratic National Committee’s hacked servers to October.

The Washington Free Beacon submitted the FOIA request in July 2017 with the FBI seeking all communication between the bureau and CrowdStrike, Inc., the California-based cyber security firm that examined the DNC’s servers following the infiltration that led to the release of John Podesta’s emails. The FBI said in December the documents should be available by March.

The FBI, which was never granted access to the DNC’s servers for inspection, instead relied on the third-party firm that was brought in by the DNC for information regarding the compromised network who concluded that Russia was behind the hack.

The FBI previously awarded an unrelated $150,000 contract to CrowdStrike in July 2015. Details and communications between the firm and the bureau regarding that past contract were requested as part of the FOIA.” (Read more: The Washington Free Beacon, 04/28/2018)

February 16, 2018 – Judicial Watch Sues State Department for Samantha Power Unmasking Documents

Samantha Power (Credit: The Associated Press)

“The former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations reportedly requested to unmask over 260 Americans in her last year in office with no explanation.

Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State for “unmasking” and other records tied to Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power relating to the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:18-cv-00300)). Unmasking refers generally to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.

On September 20, 2017, Fox News reported that Power unmasked over 260 persons in her last year as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in an attempt to uncover associates of President Trump. She “was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016,” even seeking “information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.”

On October 13, 2017, Power testified behind closed doors about this matter to the House Intelligence Committee. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, stated that “Her testimony is they [the unmasking requests] may be under my name, but I did not make those requests.”

“Unmasking and then illegally leaking the names of Trump team members caught up in foreign intelligence gathering would have been an incredible, but unsurprising abuse by the Obama administration. Was the Clinton-DNC dossier also used as justification to abuse intelligence data to ‘unmask’ American citizens to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Donald Trump?” asked Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “And why is the Tillerson State Department stonewalling Judicial Watch’s FOIA investigation into this potentially illegal conduct by its agency employees?”

Separately, in a response to a FOIA request, Judicial Watch was told by the National Security Council (NSC) in May 2017 that the materials regarding the unmasking by Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” have been removed to the Obama Library.” (Read more: Judicial Watch, 2/16/2018)

November 22, 2017 – Jeff Sessions orders further scrutiny of Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation

(Credit: The Associated Press)

“After it claimed no such document existed, the Justice Department just unearthed a letter Matt Whitaker delivered to the Utah U.S. attorney directing a review of how the department handled the Clinton Foundation and the Uranium One issues.

Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote the letter on Nov. 22, 2017 for Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber. Matt Whitaker, who was Sessions’ chief of staff at the time, emailed the letter to Huber that day, writing, “As we discussed.” He also sent Huber a copy of a letter the Justice Department’s Congressional affairs chief sent to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Nov. 13 of that year.

The existence of a letter documenting Sessions’ directive that the DOJ revisit probes of Trump’s top political foe is a surprise because a department lawyer said in court last year that senior officials insisted it didn’t exist. The liberal nonprofit American Oversight obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request they filed on Nov. 22, 2017––the same day Whitaker emailed Sessions’ letter to Huber.

The request asked for documentation of the directions Sessions gave Huber about the review of the Clinton investigations. After DOJ failed to produce any written directions, American Oversight sued.

And on Nov. 16, 2018, Senior Counsel in the Office of Information Policy Vanessa Brinkmann, who handles FOIA Requests, said a lawyer in Sessions’ office told her no such letter existed. That lawyer spoke with Huber and Whitaker, she said in a declaration filed in federal court, and then told her that “when the Attorney General directed Mr. Huber to evaluate these matters, no written guidance or directives were issued to Mr. Huber in connection with this directive, either by the Attorney General, or by other senior leadership office staff.”

That wasn’t correct. On Wednesday of last week, a DOJ lawyer told American Oversight that they had found the document that kicked off Huber’s work.

The letter, which American Oversight provided to The Daily Beast, is consistent with what the DOJ’s chief of legislative affairs has told Congress: that Huber is scrutinizing the sale of a Canadian uranium mining company with interests in the United States to Rosatom, a Russian state-owned company. Republicans have long alleged that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to oppose the deal because of contributions to the Clinton Foundation.” (Read more: The Daily Beast, 3/09/2019)