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December 15, 2021 – Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today sued the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to compel the release of documents including any communications that top Trump administration officials may have had with Fox News, the Trump campaign, or other proponents of the “Big Lie” in the weeks surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

The lawsuit comes just days after congressional investigators revealed that top Fox News personalities had texted former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows while a mob of Trump supporters ransacked the U.S. Capitol, urging him to persuade Trump to tell the rioters to go home.

Statement from American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers

“The Mark Meadows text messages make it frighteningly clear how much we still don’t know about Jan. 6 and the roles of key players both in and out of government. Every day it becomes more apparent that this was a carefully planned coup attempt that went far beyond a mob of angry Trump supporters in the streets. If we’re going to prevent the next coup attempt from succeeding, the public needs to know exactly who was involved and what they did.”

Background: 

The text messages released on Dec. 12 by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack include pleas from Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Brian Kilmeade asking for Trump to intervene to stop the violence. 

  • Ingraham texted: “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home.” 
  • Hannity sent a similar message: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.” 
  • The messages were reportedly provided to the committee by Meadows himself prior to his decision to break off cooperation with the investigation. 

American Oversight’s FOIA Requests

On Nov. 1, 2021, American Oversight submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to DHS and DOJ seeking the release of communications between former top officials and a range of individuals in the media, the Trump campaign, and right-wing politics associated with promoting Trump’s false claims of election fraud. 

  • Former officials whose records are covered by the requests include Attorney General William Barr and his successor, Jeffrey Rosen, acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, among others. 
  • Outside individuals named in the requests include Hannity and others at Fox News, Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Cleta Mitchell, as well as Phil Waldron, Mike Lindell, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley, and others.  
  • The requests seek records from Nov. 1, 2020, through Jan. 20, 2021.

Today’s Litigation

Neither DHS nor DOJ responded to American Oversight’s requests as required by law, leading the watchdog group to file suit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. 

  • The lawsuit asks the court to order the agencies to search for and release any non-exempt records. The agencies will now have 30 days to file a response to the complaint. 

Investigating Jan. 6 and the “Big Lie” Through Public Records 

American Oversight has been actively investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as well as the surrounding movements by right-wing activists to promote false claims of election fraud. 

American Oversight is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit ethics watchdog that uses public records requests backed by litigation to expose official misconduct, threats to democracy, and abuses of power at all levels of government. Documents obtained by American Oversight have supported investigative work by journalists, congressional committees, and independent watchdogs, and have been featured in hundreds of news reports across the country. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.