FOIA Lawsuit Filed Over DOJ Data Complainant Is Pretty Sure Doesn't Even Exist

from the press-SEND-to-undermine-presidential-credibility dept

Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOJ, hoping to force the government to put its documents where the president's mouth is. [h/t Pwn All The Things]

Back in February, President Trump made the following assertion before a joint Congressional session:

“According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

But what data? That's what Wittes is seeking. As he pointed out in April, it appears the president generated this assertion completely out of firing synapses and airborne vibrations.

I'm going to be very blunt here: I not only believe that the White House made up "alternative facts" about the substance of this matter in a Presidential address to a Joint Session of Congress, I don't believe that the National Security Division of the Justice Department provided any data or analysis to the White House that could reasonably be read to support the President's claim. In other words, I believe the President was lying not merely about the underlying facts but about his own Justice Department. Or, in the alternative, I believe it's possible that the Office of the Attorney General may have supported the White House's claim. But I think it extraordinarily unlikely that the folks at NSD actually provided data in support of this presidential statement.

Other authors at Lawfare examined the claim in detail, finding that when people extradited to America to face charges were excluded from the count, the ratio of foreign-born terrorism convicts dropped to 18-21% of the total -- not anywhere near a "vast majority."

Beyond that, there's likely zero data available to support Trump's claim. Wittes notes the DOJ doesn't actually track where convicts are born, and certainly doesn't do so when foreigners are booted from the country by immigration enforcement, only to be dragged back to face criminal charges.

Wittes filed a FOIA request for the numbers the DOJ supposedly "provided" to the president. So far, he's heard nothing back. His requests have been acknowledged but no further processing has been done, not even a determination as to whether he'd qualify for a fee waiver. Now, he's suing [PDF].

Wittes refers to this as the "friendliest lawsuit ever," given that it's not being fired off in hopes of liberating documents the DOJ would rather not part with, but instead to give the DOJ an opportunity to state -- on the record -- that it has none of the information Trump claimed was handed over to him. It would give the DOJ a way to contradict the president's claims without looking like it's intentionally undermining the president's assertions. Considered from this angle, it might be the sort of lawsuit the DOJ might welcome -- although if it was truly interested in disputing the president's statement, it might have chosen to provide Wittes with a more substantive response, rather than wait until it became a problem for the judiciary.

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Filed Under: benjamin wittes, department of justice, donald trump, foia, freedom of information

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  1. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 17 Aug 2017 @ 6:41am

    So would a response of "No documents found" serve to support the requester's claim?

    Just like how the FCC's claim of "no documents" about the supposed DDOS lends credibility to the theory that Idjit Paid was just lying about an attack (like everyhing else).

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