Justice Department mum on why it failed to preserve Comey emails in FOIA case

Justice Department mum on why it failed to preserve Comey emails in FOIA case
Former FBI Director James Comey does national security face in Senate testimony, 2017. (Image: Screen grab of CBS video)

By Richard Pollock

The Department of Justice has refused to take any steps to preserve work-related emails former James ComeyDirector James Comey had on a personal account that The Daily Caller News Foundation and Judicial Watch requested under the Freedom of Information Act, the conservative watchdog will file in court Friday.

“There is nothing but complete silence about why the FBI has failed to take steps to preserve records responsive to DCNF’s request,” Judicial Watch attorney Michael Bekesha will write in the filing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Judicial Watch and TheDCNF filed a joint lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act on Apr. 25 seeking records, including emails, Comey produced regarding meetings and conversations he had with then-President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden and a variety of other political figures.

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Following the Justice Department Inspector General’s June 2018 report, which disclosed that Comey used a personal Gmail account for official FBI business, both groups sought a preservation order to assure no records related to their FOIA requests were lost or destroyed.

Both groups requested U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly order the Justice Department to preserve all of Comey’s personal emails related to the two requests on July 27.

The same day, Kollar-Kotelly took the unusual step of demanding an expedited reply from the Justice Department, ordering that the agency respond to the court by Aug. 1 and to respond to Judicial Watch and TheDCNF by Aug. 3. (RELATED: Daily Caller News Foundation And Judicial Watch Seek To Preserve Comey’s Private Emails)

In its reply to the court on Aug. 1, Justice Department U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu continued to refuse to send an order to Comey or share its communications with the former director seeking the preservation of all his personal emails related to the FOIA requests.

In its opposition to the preservation request, the Justice Department stated, “even if they [sic] were a possibility of responsive records in Director Comey’s personal email, Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden of showing that such records would be lost without a preservation order.”

Comey has been cagey about the number of times he met with and had conversations with Obama. An email Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, wrote and sent to herself on Inauguration Day noted for the record that Obama, Biden, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and herself met with Comey.

Committee on the Judiciary members Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina discovered Rice’s email. The email was at odds with his June 8, 2017, testimonybefore the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in which he suggested that his firsthand meetings with Obama were rare.

“As FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years,” he said. “I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) — once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016,” Comey’s opening statement to the Intelligence Committee read.

Bekesha wrote that the FBI’s assistant section chief for record dissemination “does not state that the FBI formally requested Comey preserve any agency records or potential agency records responsive to DCNF’s FOIA request. Nor does he state that the FBI asked Comey to return any such records to the FBI.”

Judicial Watch, in its May 22 FOIA, asked for any documents or memoranda written or ordered written by Comey summarizing his conversations with any of the following individuals: Obama, Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona

TheDCNF requested records that identify and describe all meetings between Comey and Obama on Feb. 16.

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