Judge Orders State Department to Release Ukraine Records in Response to FOIA Request

October 23, 2019 Updated: October 23, 2019

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the State Department to begin producing within 30 days documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, saying the records were of obvious public interest.

The documents were sought under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by American Oversight, an ethics watchdog that investigates the administration.

“These records concern a matter of immense public importance,” Daniel McGrath, a lawyer for American Oversight, said during arguments in Washington’s federal court. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said he agreed.

Cooper encouraged the organization to work with the government to identify which documents can be released because they are not classified or otherwise exempt from disclosure. That could potentially include any correspondence with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and a key participant in a backchannel diplomacy effort with Ukraine, since he is not an administration official.

“His emails, text messages—which he showed on TV—are going to be subject to public disclosure with limited redactions,” Austin Evers, the organization’s executive director, told reporters after the hearing. “It’s possible that this administration will jump through some legal hoops to try to withhold them, but we have the court today urging the parties to focus on those communications as top priority.”

Among the records the group asked for are documents related to interactions between Giuliani and Ukraine, as well as documents about the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, arrives on Capitol Hill, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine have come under intense focus since a person who has not been named publicly filed a complaint against him, alleging he used the office of the president to pressure Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals.

According to a transcript of a July call between Trump and Zelensky, the president asked his counterpart to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden’s actions in the country. Biden bragged last year that while still in office in 2016, he threatened to withhold $1 billion in aid unless then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ousted one of Ukraine’s top prosecutors, Viktor Shokin.

Shokin was probing the energy company Burisma at the time. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of Burisma from 2014 to 2019.

Democrats say any efforts to probe Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, amounts to requesting help in interfering with the 2020 election. Trump has said the efforts to probe the Bidens are part of the investigation into the 2016 presidential election, during which Democrats sought and received help from Ukraine in trying to defeat Trump.

Ukrainian lawmakers met with Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa before the election and a group of anti-Trump lawmakers there released a so-called black book allegedly showing payments made to Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign chair.

A Ukrainian court ruled in December 2018 that the release of the book amounted to “meddling” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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