- The FBI must begin producing documents regarding Daniel Richman, the Columbia Law School professor former FBI Director James Comey used as a go-between with the press, a federal judge decided.
- Richman is a close friend of the former director who performed work for the Bureau as a “special government employee.”
- The Daily Caller News Foundation and Cause of Action Institute are seeking records and communications Richman produced for the FBI to better understand “special projects” he performed at Comey’s direction.
The FBI must begin releasing records regarding a special government employee and confidant of former Director James Comey who ferried sensitive information to the press, a federal judge ruled.
Cause of Action Institute sued the FBI on The Daily Caller News Foundation’s behalf in August 2018 to secure production of those documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Comey ally is Daniel Richman, a Columbia Law School professor who leaked private memos detailing Comey’s interactions with President Donald Trump.
“The FBI has worked very hard to keep James Comey and Daniel Richman’s dealings free from public scrutiny,” said DCNF editor in chief Christopher Bedford. “Now, we might finally learn the truth about Comey’s ‘good friend’ Richman and just what Comey had him working on.”
The Foundation hopes these records will illuminate Richman’s work at the FBI, his relationship with Comey, and his possible connection to politically fraught events at the Bureau, like its investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2017, Comey told lawmakers that he relayed memos recording his private conversations with President Trump to Richman, with instructions to leak them to the press. One of those documents revealed that Trump asked Comey to end the Bureau’s investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
That personal appeal, and Comey’s subsequent dismissal, served as the basis for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president for obstruction of justice.
Elsewhere in his testimony, Comey admitted that he orchestrated the leak in hopes his accounts would spur the appointment of a special counsel.
Fox News revealed that Richman had “special government employee” status with the Bureau, where he worked on special projects at Comey’s behest. Richman’s faculty page at Columbia Law School indicates he was an advisor to Comey and a consultant for the Department of Justice.
The DCNF filed a FOIA request for “all records, documents, and communications pertaining to Daniel Richman, a special government employee hired by former FBI Director James Comey” shortly after the Fox report in April 2018.
The Bureau failed to make a determination on that request within 20 days as required by law, prompting TheDCNF’s lawsuit in a Washington, D.C. federal trial court.
The FBI subsequently asked the court for a so-called Open America stay, given the large number of records that are pertinent to TheDCNF’s request. Open America stays allow agencies to delay production of documents under “exceptional circumstances,” like a sharp increase in the volume of FOIA requests. The Bureau cited the complexity of the request, an unexpected spike in FOIA applications, and a growing backlog of FOIA work as grounds for the stay.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected the FBI’s motion Friday, meaning production of Richman documents will follow within one month.
“The court finds that the FBI has not shown exceptional circumstances or made sufficient progress in reducing its backlog to warrant an Open America stay,” Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
“This is a significant victory not just for The Daily Caller News Foundation, but for all members of the transparency community who want to hold the FBI accountable,” said Cause of Action’s Eric Bolinder. “The FBI picked the path of obstructing records transparency by mis-applying the Open America standard. Thankfully, that now has to stop.”
“This important precedent signals that the courts will not tolerate the federal government’s attempts to stall FOIA requests in order to circumvent transparency measures,” Bolinder added.
The judge ordered the parties to set a production schedule by June 28. The Bureau will produce 500 records per month.
“We thank Cause of Action and Judge Kollar-Kotelly for helping us bring these records to light,” Bedford said.
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