Communications With The Government Accountability Institute (Department of Justice)

Aaron Sankin filed this request with the Department of Justice - FOIA/PA Mail Referral Unit of the United States of America.
Due March 16, 2017
Est. Completion None
Status
Awaiting Response

Communications

From: Aaron Sankin

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am a journalist working for the Center for Investigative Reporting (henceforth “CIR”), a nonprofit news organization. I am requesting records under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. 5 U.S.C.§ 552.

Request:

I am seeking all records concerning communications between this agency and the Government Accountability Institute (henceforth “GAI”) (www.g-a-i.org).

My request encompasses email messages and other forms of correspondence, in addition to records reflecting any contact this agency has had with GAI since its founding in 2012. Emails from GAI may come from, but are not limited to, email addresses on the @g-a-i.org domain. I would also like all communications containing the keyword “Government Accountability Institute.”

Please remove duplicate records and Google alerts from the results of this request.

Background:

GAI is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2012 by American novelist Peter Schwiezer and Stephen K. Bannon. Schwiezer, a former consult to the Office of Presidential Speechwriting at the White House, is the author of the book "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How Foreign Governments and Businesses made Bill and Hillary Rich". Bannon, the former chief executive of Breitbart News, is the current Chief Strategist to the President Donald Trump. He also holds a principal position on the president’s National Security Council (hereafter “NSC”).

Accordingly, I seek to understand the past and current relationship between the Government Accountability Institute and this agency.

Fee Waiver:

CIR (revealnews.org) is both a nonprofit news organization, an online news organization, and the producer of a popular public radio show/podcast called Reveal. Under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii), I am entitled to a fee waiver on the grounds that disclosure of the information sought is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Regardless, CIR is willing to pay fees for this request up to $10 without prior approval. If you estimate that the fees will exceed this limit, please notify me first.

Expedited Processing:

The subject of this request is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity, which affects public confidence. 28 C.F.R. § 16.5(d)(1)(iv). The release of these records will significantly contribute to the public understanding of how Mr. Bannon is advising the president on exigent matters of national security.

Due to ongoing concerns over Mr. Bannon’s role on the NSC, as well has his input on all policy coming out of the executive branch, any responsive records are of timely value. The requested documents are integral to a breaking news story and, therefore, any delay in the documents release would compromise a significant recognized interest.

CIR is an organization “primarily engaged in disseminating information.” Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Justice, 321 F. Supp. 2d 24, 29 n.5 (D.D.C. 2004) (finding that CIR is a “representative of the news media” because it “gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw material into distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.”)

The D.C. Circuit Court has stated that in determining whether there is an urgency to inform the public about government activity, and thus a compelling need to exigent disclosure, three factors are relevant: “(1) whether the request concerns a matter of current exigency to the American public; (2) whether the consequences of delaying a response would compromise a significant recognized interest; and (3) whether the request concerns federal government activity.” Al-Fayed v. CIA, 254 F.3d 306 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“Al-Fayed”)

In Wadelton v. Department of State, 13-0412 ESH, 2013 WL 1760853 (D.D.C. Apr. 25, 2013), the District Court in the D.C. Circuit noted that “courts have found a ‘compelling need’ to exist when the subject matter of the request was central to a pressing issue of the day.”

Additionally, “compelling need” is defined by the first tier of 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(v) as information the delayed release of which “could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.”

As it is the responsibility of NSC members to advise the president on the inclusion of U.S. citizens on so-called “kill or capture lists,” Mr. Bannon is a unique position to advise and persuade the president of the United States to authorize lethal force against Americans overseas. — See: Hosenball, Mark. (2011, Oct 5). Reuters. Secret panel can put Americans on ‘kill list’. Retrieved from: http://reut.rs/2jLLavO.

Due to the reasons I have described, I believe this matter is at the very heart of the “urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity" standard. U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(II); See also: Al-Fayed at 306.

Other supporting news articles:

U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida) has introduced legislation (H.R. 804) which would bar the president of the United States from appointing aides who primarily serve a political role as a principal member of the National Security Council. — Rep. Sires, Albio. (2017, Feb. 8). New Jersey Online. Bannon's appointment to National Security Council is reckless. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/2lzkRKE.

“President Trump was reportedly not fully briefed on the executive order he signed that allowed his chief strategist Steve Bannon a seat at the meetings of the country’s top national security efforts.” — Associated Press contributed. (2017, Feb. 6). Fox News. Report: Trump not fully briefed on exec order that gave Bannon seat at NSC meetings. Retrieved from http://fxn.ws/2leKI9B.

“Putting aside for a moment Mr. Bannon’s troubling public positions, which are worrisome enough, institutionalizing his attendance threatens to politicize national security decision making.” — Mullen, Michael G. (2017, Feb. 6) The New York Times. I Was on the National Security Council. Bannon Doesn't Belong There. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/2lsHL9B.

I expect a response to my request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days, as the statute requires.

Certification:

The above information is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

Electronic Records:

Please furnish all responsive records in electronic format.

Further Correspondence:

All correspondence regarding this request can be directed to me at asankin@revealnews.org.

Please be aware that under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A), a FOIA request is considered constructively denied after twenty business days and is subject to an appeal on that basis. If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. As the law requires, I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt exempt material.

I reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at (415) 786-0793.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Aaron Sankin
Reporter
Center For Investigative Reporting
(415) 786-0793
asankin@revealnews.org
revealnews.org

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Aaron Sankin

From: MRUFOIA Requests

Sir/Madam,

Please see the attached response to your FOIA request. Please note, your request has been assigned tracking number EMRUFOIA022317.

Thank you,

MRU FOIA

From: MRUFOIA Requests

Sir/Madam,
For further information regarding the status of your request please contact the department in the attached letter.
Thank you,
MRU FOIA

From: Department of Justice - FOIA/PA Mail Referral Unit

Good Afternoon,

Please see the attached original response to your FOIA request.
Thanks,

MRUFOIA

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