Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 5, 2018

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case involves another request made under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for documents concerning the infamous “Trump Dossier, ” a “collection of memoranda prepared by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele during the 2016 presidential election concerning then-candidate Donald J. Trump.” James Madison Project v. Dep't of Justice, 2018 WL 294530, at *1 (D.D.C. Jan. 4, 2018), appeal docketed (Jan. 25, 2018). Judicial Watch, Inc. submitted a FOIA request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for documents related to the FBI's relationship with Mr. Steele. When the FBI failed to timely respond, Judicial Watch filed suit. The FBI ultimately refused to confirm or deny the existence of any such documents, issuing a so-called “Glomar response.” Both parties have now moved for summary judgment. Because the FBI's Glomar response was proper and Judicial Watch has failed to carry its burden to show public acknowledgment of the requested documents, the Court will grant the Department's motion and deny Judicial Watch's.

         I. Background

         As reported extensively by the media, during the 2016 election former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele compiled a 35-page dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump. James Madison Project, 2018 WL 294530, at *1. The dossier allegedly includes “allegations that the government of Russia possesses compromising personal and financial information about President Trump.” Id. The question of who commissioned and paid for the Trump Dossier has been a subject of much contention in media and political circles.

         On February 28, 2017, the Washington Post reported that the FBI had once intended to pay Steele to continue looking into ties between then-candidate Trump and the Russian government.[1] The story concluded that the FBI did not pay Steele and noted that the FBI declined to comment on the report. Eight days later, on March 8, 2017, plaintiff Judicial Watch, Inc. filed a FOIA request with the FBI seeking three categories of documents related to the Post story:

1. Any and all records of communication between any official, employee, or representative of the FBI and Steele.
2. Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the proposed, planned, or actual payment of any funds to Steele and/or his company Orbis Business Intelligence.
3. Any and all records produced in preparation for, during, or pursuant to any meetings or telephonic conversations between any official, employee, or representative of the FBI and Steele and/or any employee or representative of his company Orbis Business Intelligence.

Hardy Decl. Ex. A, at 1.

         When the FBI failed to respond to this request in a timely fashion, Judicial Watch filed suit under FOIA against the Department of Justice, the parent agency of the FBI. See Compl. ¶¶ 7, 11. That same day, on May 16, 2017, the FBI issued a letter that asserted a Glomar response to Judicial Watch's request, refusing to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive documents on the basis of six separate FOIA exemptions. Hardy Decl. Ex. C, at 1. The parties subsequently filed briefs for summary judgment.

         II. Legal Standard

         Congress enacted FOIA “to promote the ‘broad disclosure of Government records' by generally requiring federal agencies to make their records available to the public on request.” DiBacco v. U.S. Army, 795 F.3d 178, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). But Congress also recognized that legitimate governmental and privacy interests could be harmed by the release of documents and thus carved out nine exemptions from FOIA's reach. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). These exemptions are to be narrowly construed, and the agency has the burden of justifying any withholding it makes. DiBacco, 795 F.3d at 183-84.

         The courts have also recognized that “[i]n certain cases, merely acknowledging the existence of” records responsive to a FOIA request “would itself ‘cause harm cognizable under [a] FOIA exception.'” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. NIH (“PETA”), 745 F.3d 535, 540 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (citation omitted) (second alteration in original). When such situations arise, an agency may refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any responsive records by issuing what is known as a “Glomar response.” Id.[2] A Glomar response is appropriate “if the fact of the existence or nonexistence of agency records falls within a FOIA exception.” Id. (citation omitted). In assessing the validity of a Glomar response, the Court can rely on agency affidavits. Id.

         An agency may not issue a Glomar response, however, if it has already publicly acknowledged the existence of the records sought. American Civil Liberties Union v. CIA (“ACLU”), 710 F.3d 422, 427 (D.C. Cir. 2013). A plaintiff bears the burden of proving such public acknowledgment. Id. To meet this burden, a plaintiff in a Glomar case “must pinpoint an agency record that both matches the plaintiff's request and has been publicly and officially acknowledged by the agency.” Moore v. CIA, 666 F.3d 1330, 1333 (D.C. Cir. 2011); see ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.