COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
- This case concerns perhaps the most consequential search warrant in the history of this nation — the FBI search warrant (the “Search Warrant“) issued by Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox on October 30, 2016 regarding the e-mails between Hillary Clinton (“Clinton”) and Huma Abedin (“Abedin”) found on the laptop belonging to Abedin’s husband Anthony Weiner (“Weiner”). Many believe that the publicity surrounding the Search Warrant changed the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
- This is an action under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, to order the production without redaction of the Search Warrant and related affidavits, which defendant has improperly produced only in an incomplete, redacted form to Plaintiff.
- This court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B).
- Plaintiff resides in Los Angeles, California.
- Plaintiff, E. Randol Schoenberg, is an attorney, journalist and author with a blog entitled schoenblog.com, and is the requester of the records which defendant is now withholding. Plaintiff’s November 16, 2016 article concerning the Search Warrant, “Investigate the FBI,” was published in the Jewish Journal and was shared over 9,000 times.
- Plaintiff has requested the unredacted Search Warrant for use in a news story. The prompt release of the unredacted Search Warrant is important because of the enormous public interest in this information.
- Defendant Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) is an agency of the United States and has possession of the documents that Plaintiff seeks.
- On or about November 12, 2016, plaintiff made an online FOIAPA request to the FBI for “the search warrant and related application, affidavits and receipts used by the FBI and Justice Department to obtain the review of Huma Abedin’s e-mails related to Hillary Clinton, as discussed in this New York Times story from October 30, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/31/us/politics/justice-department-warrant-clinton-abedin-fbi.html.” A copy of this letter is attached as Exhibit 1. The request was assigned No. 1361976-001.
- On or about December 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed an action in the Southern District of New York to unseal the Search Warrant in that Court. By order dated December 19, 2016, Judge P. Kevin Castel ordered the release of the Search Warrant, subject to certain redactions requested by the FBI concerning Abedin and Weiner (who are identified only as Subject 1 and Subject 2). A copy of Judge Castel’s December 19, 2016 Order is attached as Exhibit 2.
- The December 19 release of the redacted Search Warrant received nationwide publicity, as a matter of great public interest.
- Rather than litigate the redactions at that time, Plaintiff elected to continue with the FOIA administrative process.
- On or about May 11, 2017, the FBI responded to the FOIA request by again releasing the Search Warrant with redactions. A copy of the May 11, 2017 release letter is attached as Exhibit 3.
- A copy of the redacted Search Warrant from In re Search of A Laptop Computer, S.D.N.Y. 16 MAG 7063, which was produced by the FBI on or about May 11, 2017, is attached as Exhibit 4.
- In its May 11, 2017 response letter the FBI cited just two grounds for the redactions — Exemptions 5 U.S.C. 552 b(6) and b(7)(C) relating to personal privacy. In addition, the FBI added “For your information, sealed court records are not eligible for release under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of the material responsive to your request has been withheld and marked ‘OTHER — Sealed.'”
- On or about Jun 12, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an appeal contesting the redactions. A copy of this appeal is attached as Exhibit 5. The appeal was assigned No. DOJ-AP-2017-004605.
- Plaintiff noted “the two principle subjects of the redaction are presumably Huma Abedin and Anthony Wiener. Their identities have been disclosed on numerous occasions and there can hardly be any privacy invasion as the result of the disclosure of their names on this Search Warrant. The FBI has previously released documents relating to Hillary Clinton, and did not redact Abedin’s name. https://vault.fbi.gov/hillary-r.-clinton [see e.g. Part 3 of 15, page 84 et seq., released September 2, 2016], discussing the interview of Huma Abedin and the production and review of her e-mails. The Wiener case is also now closed as a result of his recent guilty plea. So there is no reason any of this should be hidden from view.”
- Further, Plaintiff stated: “Your letter states: ‘For your information, sealed court records are not eligible for release under the FOIA.’ If you merely Google that phrase, you will find a link to the Justice Department website, https://www.justice.gov/oip/blog/foia-update-significant-new-decisions-22, where you cite Morgan v. Department of Justice, 923 F.2d 195 (D.C. Cir. 1991) for the proposition that ‘the mere existence of a court seal is, without more, insufficient to justify nondisclosure under the FOIA.’ There is no chance that the sealing order in this case was issued with the intent to prohibit the agency [from] disclosing any of the information in the search warrant. Please remove the redactions based on the sealing order.”
- Finally, Plaintiff averred: “Additionally, you have redacted the names of the agents who were involved in this ill-fated search. I am unaware of any case that permits the FBI to redact the names of its agents in a closed case with no threat of violence, based solely on ‘privacy.’ Here, the public interest in disclosure massively outweighs any privacy interest.”
- By letter dated September 20, 2017, Sean O’Neill, Chief of the Administrative Appeals Staff affirmed the FBI’s action and refused to remove any of the redactions. A copy of the September 20, 2017 letter is attached as Exhibit 6.
- O’Neill merely restated the privacy exemptions and did not explain how the release of the redacted material could conceivably constitute a “clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of third parties,” whose identity and involvement in the matter were already widely known to the public.
- O’Neill did not address the issue of disclosure of the identity of the agent who signed the affidavit in support of the Search Warrant. If ever there were a public interest in learning the identity of an agent, this would be the case. The public has not only a right, but a need to know which FBI agent stated that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime by Hillary Clinton would be found on the laptop. No such evidence was found. None of the ordinary circumstances justifying redaction of the agent’s name (ongoing investigation, risk of violence, etc.) arises in this case.
- It should be noted that the purported purpose of the search requested in the Search Warrant affidavit — identifying and securing classified e-mails, all of which had already been reviewed by the FBI, although that fact was not disclosed in the affidavit in support of the Search Warrant — does not match the testimony of FBI Director James Comey on May 3, 2017 before the Senate Judiciary Committee that his team was looking for “the golden missing e-mails that would change this case.” The truth is that the FBI hoped to find not additional copies of the previously reviewed e-mails between Abedin and Clinton (which was, not surprisingly, all that was found), but rather earlier e-mail evidence that the private e-mail server had been set up with the express intent to commit a crime. Comey stated on May 3, 2017: “What they could see from the metadata was that there were thousands of Secretary Clinton’s emails on that device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months as secretary of state. We never found any emails from her first three months. She was using a Verizon BlackBerry then and that’s obviously very important, because if there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent, that’s where it would be in the first three months.” A review of the Search Warrant affidavit reveals that the agent withheld the true focus of the search from Magistrate Judge Fox.
- Although Magistrate Fox approved the issuance of the search warrant, many have questioned whether the affidavit supported a finding of probable cause. Recently released text messages from FBI attorney Lisa Page to FBI agent Peter Sztrok on October 27, 2016, the date Comey decided to notify Congress of his decision to search the laptop, demonstrates that Page was “completely INFURIATED with [FBI general counsel] Jim [Baker]” and was concerned with whether there was probable cause to proceed. “Please, let’s figure out what it is we HAVE first. What if we can’t make out PC? Then we have no further investigate step.” (DOJ-PROD 0000303-304, pages 137-8 in Appendix C – Documents released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs on February 6, 2018 at https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/library, a copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit 7.) Given the internal dispute at the FBI concerning probable cause for the search warrant, and the fact that no incriminating evidence was ever found, the public should be permitted to review the unredacted warrant in full to determine if the FBI handled the search properly.
- The public has a right to know the name of the agent, so that further inquiries can be made to determine what exactly happened and why. On or about April 24, 2017, FBI Special Agent E. W. Priestap filed a lengthy declaration in the case of Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Tillerson (Dist.D.C. Civil Action No. 15-cv-0785) discussing his role in the Clinton e-mail investigation, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit 8. There is no reason that his or another agent’s names cannot be disclosed on the Search Warrant affidavit. The Solicitor General of the U.S. Department of Justice Michael Horowitz is also conducting an investigation concerning pre-election actions by the FBI. Therefore, the public interest in reviewing the conduct of governmental affairs is paramount and greatly outweighs any privacy interest of the agent.
- Finally, rather than address the 1991 holding of the D.C. Circuit in Morgan v. Department of Justice, Mr. O’Neill instead stated that “the FBI lacks authority to consider the releasability of this information under the FOIA,” citing the 1980 ruling in GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union, 445 U.S. 375, 384-86 (1980). Mr. O’Neill did not mention that the GTE case concerned a protective order, rather than a sealing order, and that the D.C. Circuit had expressly distinguished and limited the holding in GTE in the Morgan case, when it found that the mere existence of a sealing order was not sufficient grounds for withholding information under FOIA.
- Plaintiff has a right receive an unredacted copy of the Search Warrant and related documents under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3), and there is no legal basis for defendant’s refusal to remove the improper redactions.
WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests this Court:
(1) Order defendant to provide unredacted copies of the requested documents;
(2) Expedite this proceeding as provided for in 28 U.S.C. § 1657;
(3) Award plaintiff costs and reasonable attorneys fees in this action, as provided in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E); and
(4) Grant such other and further relief as may deem just and proper.