Jeff Sessions Ethics Documents

Alexander Rony filed this request with the Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy of the United States of America.
Tracking #

108480, DOJ -2017-004276, DOJ-AP-2019-004293

108480, DOJ -2017-004276



From: Alexander Rony

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the following records:

1. The Ethics Pledge signed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as required by Executive Order No. 13770, § 1.
2. Any waivers issued or approved for Attorney General Sessions under Executive Order No. 13770, § 3.
3. Departmental guidance issued on Attorney General Sessions' recusals, including emails, letters, and memoranda. An example of such a document is the February 27, 2017 memorandum from Karen M. Wardzinski titled, “Recusal List for Jeffrey Wood.” You may exclude the March 2 press release titled, “Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal.”
4. Records of communications (emails, letters, memoranda, meeting agendas, notes, text messages, and call logs) between Attorney General Sessions (or his chief of staff when acting on his behalf) and Designated Agency Ethics Official Lee J. Lofthus (or his alternate). Please search from January 20, 2017 to May 10, 2017.

I have attached a PDF version of this FOIA request for improved readability.

Exempt Records

Should you decide to invoke a FOIA exemption with regard to any of the requested records, please include in your response letter sufficient information for an appeal, including:

1. Basic factual material about each withheld item, including the originator, date, length, general subject matter, and location of each item.
2. Explanations and justifications for denial, including the identification of the category within the governing statutory provision under which the document (or portion thereof) was withheld and a full explanation of how each exemption fits the withheld material.

If you determine that portions of a requested record are exempt from disclosure, please redact the exempt portions and provide the remainder of the record.

Fee Waiver Request

I respectfully request that you waive all fees in connection with this request as provided by 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) and 40 C.F.R. § 2.107(l). The Sierra Club is a national environmental nonprofit with no commercial interest in obtaining the requested information. Instead, our organization intends to analyze and disseminate the requested information free of charge so that the public can be better informed and meaningfully participate in government oversight.

As explained below, this FOIA request satisfies the factors listed in the Justice Department's governing regulations for waiver or reduction of fees, as well as the requirements of fee waiver under the FOIA statute – that “disclosure of the information 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.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii), see also 40 C.F.R. § 2.107(l).

The subject matter of the requested records is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government by disclosing key issues of concern surrounding the nation’s top law enforcement officer. The attorney general’s conflicts of interests and recusals require procedures that limit his involvement, and there is a clear public interest in finding out the details of these protocols.

On March 2, the Justice Department issued a press statement from Attorney General Sessions that included the line, “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”

In that press release and a subsequent press conference, Attorney General Sessions confirmed that he met with “senior career Department officials” to evaluate the rules of ethics and recusal on at least two dates: February 27 and March 2. A transcript of the press conference is available at:

The press statement mentioned that “Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself.” This was before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate; he is now fulfilling those duties (see

On May 9, the president fired FBI Director James Comey based on a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and a letter from Attorney General Sessions (which also referred to Rosenstein’s memo). You can find copies of the May 9 memo and letter at

This has raised many concerns from ethics watchdogs and journalists, since the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the relationships between the Russian government and several associates of Donald Trump. According to the Washington Post, Director Comey’s abrupt dismissal was motivated by the investigations, and the president had directed Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to come up with a rationale:

The records covered by this FOIA request would disclose whether Attorney General Sessions broke agreed-upon ethics and recusal rules regarding the investigation. Given the large amount of media coverage regarding this issue – a portion of which is included below in the Expedited Treatment section – there is a strong public interest that would be served by these documents.

The Sierra Club and its supporters have demonstrated interest and expertise in the subject area, specifically the development of policies designed to safeguard our democracy and ensure government transparency. The Sierra Club maintains an active Democracy program and weighs in when nominations and legislation affect that work. In recent months, tens of thousands of our supporters have sent letters to government officials regarding the Trump-Russia investigation. Tens of thousands of our supporters have also written to Congress and the president regarding matters related to the attorney general so far this year. We would share information gathered through this FOIA request with this large, engaged audience.

Media Requester Status

The Sierra Club has the ability and intention to disseminate the information it receives through this request. The information may be shared through emails to an audience reaching into the millions, Facebook and Twitter posts reaching tens of thousands of followers, articles on our often-visited website, and analysis provided to the media.

My professional duties at the Sierra Club include composing mass communications to our followers, analyzing FOIA responses, and coordinating with press secretaries. Here are three such examples that resulted from my work:

The bulk of my work entails planning and writing content about public policy issues that is distributed through email, webpages, and social media. I ask that, in addition to being granted a public interest fee waiver, I be properly categorized as a media use requester.

Expedited Treatment

Due to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the 2016 election’s investigations and the FBI director's ouster, I request expedited treatment of this FOIA request. As described in the preceding section, my primary professional activity is information dissemination. The information contained in this request is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.

This request meets the three primary factors in determining whether there is an urgency to inform:

1. The request concerns a matter of current exigency to the American public, given the central roles the involved officials play in several prominent investigations and the possibility that they are using their positions to influence those investigations. This is especially true given that these officials oversee the country’s top law enforcement department – citizens must have faith in the Justice Department’s ability to follow its own ethics rules.
2. The consequences of delaying a response would compromise a significant recognized interest. Delaying this information through the normal FOIA process would represent a clear loss in value to the developing breaking news story. Furthermore, the president is likely to nominate a replacement FBI director in the coming days ahead; U.S. senators and citizens should have these documents available at that time to provide context during the confirmation process.
3. The request concerns federal government activity, specifically the activity that took place at the U.S. Department of Justice.

On top of the reasons mentioned above, 28 C.F.R. § 16.5(e)(1)(iv) provides for expedited processing when there is a "matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government's integrity that affect public confidence." That may as well have been written about the topic of this request. Evidence of this exceptional media interest and ongoing national discussion can be found in this relatively small sample of news articles:

Record Delivery

I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not. In the event that there are fees, please inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. Please also include an explanation of why I was not granted the fee waivers and/or reductions.

Please produce the records on a rolling basis; at no point should the search for – or deliberation concerning – certain records delay the production of others that the agency has already retrieved and elected to produce.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within the statutory deadline.


Alexander Rony
Sierra Club

Enclosures: (5 pages)

From: JMD-FOIA (imailagent)

May 19, 2017

Mr. Alexander Rony

Sierra Club Via Muckrock News
DEPT MR 37536
411A Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA 02144-2516

Re: Request for records regarding ethics issues in five specific areas


Dear Mr. Rony:

I am writing on behalf of the Justice Management Division (JMD) of the
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to acknowledge receipt of your Freedom
of Information (FOIA) request on 05/15/2017.

For your information, the Justice Management Division assigns incoming
requests to one of three tracks: simple, complex, or expedited. Each
request is then handled on a first-in, first-out basis in relation to
other requests in the same track. Simple requests usually receive a
response in approximately one month whereas complex requests
necessarily take longer. At this time, your request has been assigned
to the Simple track. Please note that as a general matter, records in
the Department are decentralized and our response will only cover
information originating with or relating to JMD. If you are seeking
information originating with or relating to other components of the
Department, please make a FOIA request directly to those components.

If you have a question about the status of your FOIA request, you may
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excluding federal holidays).

Please refer to your assigned JMD FOIA TRACKING NUMBER listed above
whenever you contact the Department regarding this request.


Karen E. McFadden

FOIA Contact

Justice Management Division

From: JMDFoia (JMD)

Mr. Rony:

Attached is a PDF of a letter informing you of the action that the Justice Management Division has taken regarding your Freedom of Information Act request tracking number 108480.

Karen McFadden
FOIA Contact
Justice Management Division


Attached is this Office's acknowledgment of the above-referenced referral.

From: Alexander Rony

Hello, I was hoping to get an update on my FOIA request (JMD #108480, OAG# DOJ-2017-004276). Last I heard responsive documents were found and referred to another office for consultation before being provided to me. This was several months ago -- are those ready to be released yet?

Thank you very much,
Alexander Rony
Sierra Club

From: Department of Justice, Justice Management Division

Mr. Rony:

I am responding to FAX transmissions sent by you asking for updates on your FOIA request JMD Tracking Number 108480.

From: Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy

Dear Alexander Rony:

Please see the attached.

Initial Request Staff
Office of Information Policy
U.S. Department of Justice

From: Alexander Rony

To whom it may concern,

I am appealing the April 15, 2019 response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request number DOJ-2017-004276 (AG).

First, I am appealing the withholding in full of eleven pages of responsive records. These were claimed to be exempt under FOIA's Exemption 5, and I lack more context than that. If there are portions that can be released, FOIA provides for responsible redaction, and I would request that those documents are considered for redaction and release.

Second, I am appealing the adequacy of the overall search, which did not appear to find any formal waivers or recusals (which would presumably be final decisions and not applicable to Exemption 5) for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and only found fourteen non-duplicative pages of responsive records.

As referenced in my initial request, the Department of Justice released a March 2, 2017 press release titled, "Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal" The response to my FOIA request did not include any formal, internal recusal documents, such as the "Recusal List for Jeffrey Wood" memorandum ( Though it is not certain that any such documents exist, it is exceptionally surprising that the government has no records pertaining to the attorney general's recusal on a major matter beyond a short press release.

Lastly, the Department of Justice's response included standard text about law enforcement and national security exclusions to FOIA. Should there be records that were excluded due to these issues, it should be noted that Mr. Sessions is no longer attorney general and the Mueller investigation into foreign political interference has concluded.

Thank you for your work,
Alexander Rony
Sierra Club

From: Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy

This message is to notify you of a new appeal submission to the FOIAonline application. Appeal information is as follows:
* Appeal Tracking Number: DOJ-AP-2019-004293
* Request Tracking Number: DOJ-2017-004276
* Requester Name: Alexander Rony
* Date Submitted: 04/25/2019
* Appeal Status: Submitted
* Description: AG Appeal

From: Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy

DOJ-AP-2019-004293 has been processed with the following final disposition: Affirmed on Appeal.
Given the nature of this request, some records are only being released to you as the requester. If you have an account in FOIAonline, you may access those records by . Otherwise, those responsive records will be sent via the method agreed upon with the FOIA processor. logging into FOIAonline (

  • Rony, Alexander OIP 19-004293 appeal response (4-30-19)