MARCH 31, 2016
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking FBI interview records of then-President-elect Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Valerie Jarrett. Obama and his aides were interviewed as part of the initial investigation of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to fourteen years in federal prison for attempting to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No 1:16-cv-00576)).
Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the FBI denied June 1, 2011, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking:
- Records of FBI interviews with Barack Obama concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records of FBI interviews with Rahm Emanuel concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records of FBI interviews with Valerie Jarrett concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records concerning any of the aforementioned interviews with Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, or Valerie Jarrett.
On June 18, 2012, the FBI denied Judicial Watch’s FOIA request asserting the records were exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 7(A). Record/Information Dissemination Section Chief David M. Hardy stated:
I have determined that the records responsive to your request are law enforcement records; that there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these requests; and that the release of the information contained in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with the enforcement proceedings.
On August 16, 2012, Judicial Watch appealed the FBI’s denial and on January 23, 2013, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) affirmed the FBI’s denial stating:
The FBI properly withheld this information in full because it is protected from disclosure under the FOIA pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A). This provision concerns records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes the release of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
On December 18, 2008, about a week after Blagojevich’s arrest, then-President-elect Barack Obama was questioned at his Chicago transition office by two assistant United States attorneys and two FBI agents for 2 hours about the scandal surrounding the alleged sale of the Senate seat he vacated in 2008. Judicial Watch is seeking the FBI summaries from this interview.
In January 2009, Judicial Watch released documents from the office of then-Governor Rod Blagojevich related to Blagojevich’s contacts with President-elect Obama and his transition team. The documents include a December 3, 2008, letter from Barack Obama following his December 2, 2008, meeting with Blagojevich as well as a November 17, 2008, letter signed by Presidential Transition Team co-chairs Valerie Jarrett and John Podesta providing Blagojevich with a list of transition team contacts. These documents tend to undermine Obama’s claims that he had no contact with Blagojevich.
Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of the 20 public corruption charges against him, some of which have been vacated. He is not scheduled for release until 2024. The Supreme Court has refused to hear his appeal on the 13 remaining corruption charges. A federal judge has scheduled Blagojevich to be resentenced on June 30, 2016.
“This lawsuit highlights the personal corruption issues of Barack Obama,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Barack Obama and his closest aides were interviewed by the FBI in a criminal investigation and his administration doesn’t want Americans to have the details. The Chicago way shouldn’t trump the American people’s right to know.”