On this episode of American Thought Leaders, Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek talks with Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
Fitton’s organization has been highly successful in obtaining key documents from the government that are in the public interest, such as emails related to the 2012 Benghazi attack that were sent by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and documents related to the Spygate scandal.
We talk about what makes the Trump-Russia collusion hoax the biggest scandal in American History as well as what questions need to be investigated now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has concluded.
In our interview, Fitton also provides insight into how transparency organizations such as Judicial Watch actually manage to get the documents, and why some government information—despite a legal requirement to provide it—is so hard to obtain.
Jan Jekielek: Tom, I wanted to dig in a little bit into what Judicial Watch is all about. We keep getting news releases. You are in the news a lot because you’re doing some really important work, but you have a mission behind all this. It’s something to do with transparency. It’s something about using FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests as a weapon to expose corruption. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Judicial Watch is all about?
Tom Fitton: We’re an educational foundation, which explains a lot about what we’re doing, and we’re trying to get records from the government so the American people are educated about what their government is up to. We also use the litigation process to expose government misconduct and educate people about misconduct that the government’s engaged in. And, obviously, that has the effect of holding government officials accountable to the rule of law. And there’s really no one else in America that does the sort of work that we do as consistently and as broadly, in terms of trying to get information out of the government about misconduct on issues of public importance. And we are able to challenge directly government officials, government agencies, or politicians in court over their misconduct as well.
Mr. Jekielek: So these FOIA requests, I think as you’re alluding to, often become lawsuits. How does that work exactly?
Mr. Fitton: Well, unfortunately, under our law … Let’s put it this way: To ask, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get what you want. You have to sue to get what you want. Because at least at the federal level, the agencies just blithely ignore the law. And if you want a substantial response to your Freedom of Information Act request, you’ve got to go to court. So, freedom of information in many ways is a misnomer because it ain’t free. Because you’ve got to go to court to get it.
Mr. Jekielek: Which costs money.
Mr. Fitton: It costs money, and time, and resources. And unfortunately, the government fights us too often tooth-and-nail for basic information. I joke sometimes we have to sue just to get the time of day.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you offer a few of the most colorful examples of FOIA requests that you have out right now, or FOIA lawsuits that you had to engage in.
Mr. Fitton: Well, one of our most significant FOIA lawsuits was over the Clinton emails. Essentially, we’re suing for information about Benghazi. We noticed there were no Clinton emails. So we pushed and pushed, and the government finally admitted they had this secret cache of Clinton emails that they hadn’t told the American people, the courts, or Congress about. So, it was a FOIA lawsuit that exposed the Clinton emails.
It also exposed key aspects of the current scandal in terms of the targeting of President Trump. For instance, we found that the FBI was paying Christopher Steele, who was also being paid by the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. They’re all paying him money at once. It was a joint operation. And they were meeting with him dozens of times, even after he was let go at the FBI.
And all of this came out as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests. So we’re doing the work that Congress often doesn’t do in oversight and something the Justice Department and the State Department in this case with the Clinton emails or Russiagate. We’re often forcing them to come clean with information they don’t want the American people to know about.
Mr. Jekielek: So the Mueller report has dropped. Presumably, we’ll be seeing some major elements of it or perhaps the whole thing even in the near future. We know there was no collusion. The Department of Justice says “no obstruction” as well. But you are still investigating. What’s there to investigate? What are you investigating?
Mr. Fitton: The Mueller report confirmed that there was never really a good reason to investigate President Trump. There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence, that means that dossier is false. And I think they all knew that at the time. Certainly, in January of 2017, Mr. Mueller admitted at the time—before he confronted Mr. Trump with the dossier—that he knew at the time and told Trump essentially that we haven’t been able to corroborate any of this, but you should know about it. And they still haven’t been able to corroborate it. And certainly, Mueller has confirmed after two years that there was no evidence of collusion. So we need to figure out about the corruption behind that big lie that led to a harassing investigation of the president, and I think abuse of power by various agencies in terms of targeting him, spying on him, leaking on him, leaking classified information to target him. All of this needs to be exposed. We’re even asking basic questions about the Mueller operation.
I know the Democrats are pretending to be interested in the Mueller report. They’re creating a fight with an unnecessary subpoena at this point. But they don’t want the full information from Mueller—that’s for sure. They don’t want to know the FISA warrant. They don’t want the FISA warrant material. They don’t want these Page–Strzok text messages or other emails and material that would reflect on why the Obama Justice Department and the Obama FBI were illicitly targeting him, while protecting Hillary Clinton.
This is why you have an independent group like Judicial Watch asking these questions because, frankly, when the Republicans ran Congress, they didn’t do enough investigating. Certainly, anything that’s going to make the Democratic Party look bad or President Obama’s administration look bad—that is not going to be investigated by the House.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of the FISA warrants, I think it was [Judicial Watch] that actually exposed or … Actually, maybe you can clarify this for me that there weren’t hearings held around these FISA warrants that were related to essentially spying on the presidential campaign. How does that work? Is that what you found?
Tom Fitton: Well, that was follow the bouncing ball as well. I think we sued. We asked the court for information and the court said the government has transcripts, if there are any. So we went and asked the government. They ignored our requests, so we sued. So finally they said, “Well, we don’t have anything.” [Then] we go back to the courts and say “Well, they don’t have it, do you have it?” Then the government finally admitted that there were no transcripts because there were no hearings. So they had the initial FISA application and three renewals. These were four separate pleadings filed with the court to get the spy warrant targeting—it was Carter Page in name, but it was really Trump they were after. And the court didn’t hold … four different judges held not one hearing on an effort by the Justice Department and the FBI to spy on, essentially, the presidential candidate and then the president of the United States. It’s just remarkable. And who uncovered that? Judicial Watch.
Mr. Jekielek: Tom, Judicial Watch, aside from being a transparency-oriented organization, is also an organization that does a heck of a lot of legal work.
Mr. Fitton: Actually, we’re investigating the Clinton email issue still. Obviously, Judicial Watch wants full accountability and truth about what went on behind that scandal. But the court was interested in this and in this specific case—that Benghazi case I talked about earlier—the court wants to know, hey, did Mrs. Clinton set up the system to avoid the Freedom of Information Act? Was the court hoodwinked? Were they trying to fool the court into shutting down the case before they ‘fessed up to the emails? He also wants to know are there other Clinton emails that can be found and searched and reviewed as the law requires? So we’re bringing in top officials at the State Department, and former White House officials to be questioned about this under oath in person, and some of them are getting written questions. So, you know, everyone says what about Mrs. Clinton?
Well, Judicial Watch is doing the heavy lifting on that still. Over the objections of the Justice Department and the State Department—not the Obama State Department and Justice Department—but the departments and agencies run nominally by appointees of President Trump. If I were the president, I’d bring all of the cabinet officials in and say, you know, stop stonewalling, we want justice, we want accountability, follow the law and err on the side of transparency and full disclosure. And that would go a long way to exposing the corruption. But instead, these agencies are still defending Hillary Clinton, still defending Barack Obama. And I suspect they’ll keep on defending Robert Mueller. They’ll get all this dirt out on President Trump—I guarantee you the deep state will. But when we push behind it to see what Mueller was really up to and any misconduct and some of the controversial decisions he made, I suspect we’re going to get a fight.
Mr. Jekielek: So I just want to be clear I had it wrong about it. There’s nothing with this. All of these depositions have to do with this.
Mr. Fitton: Oh, it’s Clinton email and Benghazi. The court wants to know that they hide the Clinton emails because they were concerned about what they might have in relation to Benghazi.
Mr. Jekielek: So a big question that I have is: As you’ve been doing this investigation around the Mueller report and everything leading up to it, and then the other side as [Sen.] Lindsey Graham has been calling it—Spygate, Russiagate, how serious is this from all the work that you’ve seen over the years?
Mr. Fitton: I think it’s the worst corruption scandal in American history. There’s simply no comparison in terms of government agencies colluding and conspiring to target a presidential candidate and then overthrow a president. So we had this kind of slow-motion coup taking place beginning in the early part of the administration that, frankly, is continuing today. They want to overthrow the president. They’re going to break any rule, it looks to me, in order to do it. And there’s really nothing to compare in prior history where that type of activity took place. So that needs to be exposed.
But to a degree, you had individuals abusing their offices for political purposes. That’s a violation of the law if you’re doing it in a law enforcement capacity. You’ve got this power that is granted to you by the American people to spy on people, to try to get subpoenas to conduct criminal investigations. And if you’re just doing it because you don’t like someone personally or politically, you’re breaking a law. So people like Peter Strzok, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe, and others who seem to have a political agenda behind their investigations and may have been dishonest with the courts in terms of these FISA warrants—that to me deserves criminal investigation.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you just outline what elements Judicial Watch is specifically working on and trying to help make that happen.
Mr. Fitton: Well, all we can do is get the information out. So, for instance, Andrew Weissmann who was Mueller’s No. 2, he wrote an email, we found, to Sally Yates the holdover from Barack Obama’s administration who was an anti-Trumper, obviously, but she was acting attorney general for President Trump for a time, until she was fired for refusing to enforce his first travel ban. So, Andrew Weissman writes her an email saying, “I’m in awe of you. You’re my hero.” This is the guy who’s now investigating President Trump, and it turns out later, there’s a report that he had attended Mrs. Clinton’s election-night party.
We want his emails and texts, so we’re asking for his texts. We’re asking for all the leaks to Page–Strzok texts. We’re asking about leaks to CNN targeting Trump, leaks to the Associated Press targeting Trump. The media is part of this conspiracy, it’s pretty clear, against President Trump. And we are using the Freedom of Information Act, a tool available to us to figure out who is behind these leaks and whether the media was either knowingly or otherwise misused to target a sitting president with overthrow.
Mr. Jekielek: And we’ve been able to use some of the information that you’ve gathered in our own reporting, which we’ve really appreciated.
Mr. Fitton: Yeah. For instance, I’m sure you’ve been doing some reporting on the testimony of Nellie Ohr and Bruce Ohr. Now, Judicial Watch is … I know there’s been testimony, but Judicial Watch got the Justice Department documents showing that Bruce Ohr was in constant and regular communication with Glenn Simpson, and, more specifically, Christopher Steele, who is in communication with both. I think there were like 60 communications after Christopher Steele, the Clinton-DNC spy, was fired by the FBI as a confidential informant. So Bruce Ohr, whose wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, constant communication from the end of 2016 through 2017. Sixty times, he was in communication with them. Unbelievable.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re looking forward to seeing what other information Judicial Watch …
Mr. Fitton: More is always coming when it comes to Judicial Watch FOIA requests and lawsuits.
Mr. Jekielek: To switch gears a little bit I noticed—and I haven’t seen any other information around this—but after we learned that all the charges against Jesse Smollett were dropped and the case sealed, as I understand it, I think you said, “We’re going to investigate this.” Can you tell us a little … I didn’t see anything else in your statement.
Mr. Fitton: Yes. So what we do is we go in and we ask for the documents, and we often ask questions beyond the typical questions you might think to ask. So we’re in it for the long haul. We’ve begun the Public Records Act requests in Illinois. And if they don’t produce the documents, including communications between some of the politicians involved and outsiders, that resulted in Mr. Smollett being given this get-out-of-jail-free card, we do go to court. We’ve gone to court already in Illinois repeatedly on various controversies in Chicago and the state. So we’re well experienced in litigating in Illinois over the Chicago way.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s truly an astounding case because of the way that police certainly presented it and the evidence that they presented publicly early on, it seemed to be open and shut.
Mr. Fitton: It was, but on the other hand, isn’t it interesting that you had, again, someone who falsely targeted or implied President Trump was responsible for this attack through his rhetoric. There was a MAGA hat supposedly involved and all of that turned out to be a big lie. Frankly, it’s the dime-store version of the Russia hoax. Make false allegations and there’s all this big investigation, and it turns out it was a big lie. Frankly, the smallest initial allegations were more concerning and had more credibility than the dossier. So, frankly, the FBI had less of an excuse to investigate the dossier than the Chicago police. I tell you, if the Chicago police had investigated the dossier, we would have been done with this a month after it was floating around.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m sure that they will appreciate those words.
Mr. Fitton: Any big city police department would have seen right through this.
Mr. Jekielek: What other big irons do you have in the fire—important cases are you looking into?
Mr. Fitton: Immigration, obviously, is a big issue as well. I mean we’ve got an out-of-control border—our borders are unsecured. So we have a border crisis—the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history. You know, previously, you had individuals coming across the border. They came in groups of ones and twos and threes, but they were almost always single males, and it was easy to turn them away. You know, some of them made it through, some of them were captured and released into the country, but most were just—go back, go back the other way.
But because of this asylum loophole or abuse, we have these family units coming across and they’re not being turned away in large numbers. Instead, they’re all just coming across and they have to be vetted and administratively handled. And we don’t have the beds nor the will to hold them, so they’re released into the country and our system is being overwhelmed. So we’ve been investigating that, we’ve been investigating the caravans. You know, Judicial Watch was down in Guatemala looking at the caravans and recognized they were highly organized [and] full of criminals. Not all of them were criminals, but it was a vehicle for criminals to take advantage.
Mr. Jekielek: And also, apparently, misdirection on the side of these cartels that are driving a lot of this.
Mr. Fitton: Oh, sure. This is a mass human-trafficking operation. The cartels are running it. We have to recognize that we don’t control the border on our side of the border. And the Mexican government doesn’t control the border on their side of the border—it’s the cartels. The cartels are running the border. And the president should recognize that, recognize the dire threat they are to our national security, and deploy the necessary military personnel to secure the border.
But, in the meantime, we do other litigation related to immigration, obviously, we’ve got the Freedom of Information Act requests about what’s going on. But we have a direct case against the City of San Francisco on behalf of a taxpayer challenging that sanctuary city activity up in San Francisco. The sheriff’s department lets people out without telling ICE. That’s illegal. And so we’re challenging that on behalf of a taxpayer. We’re prepared to go to trial as soon as July.
Mr. Jekielek: How do you choose your targets? How do you decide?
Mr. Fitton: It’s kind of a sad situation because the targets are pretty obvious. Hillary Clinton’s conduct at the State Department, the obvious abuse of power targeting President Trump, the immigration crisis. No one else does the work to figure out what’s going on, and I exaggerate slightly—there is always someone asking questions. But in terms of using the Freedom of Information Act to direct legal challenges, there are few that do that work. So it’s pretty easy pickings. Pretty much anything you see in the newspaper that makes you scratch your head, we’re investigating.
Mr. Jekielek: OK.
Mr. Fitton: And it may result in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. And I also want to add another core issue: election integrity.
Mr. Jekielek: Right.
Mr. Fitton: Because we do have an election integrity crisis here in the United States. And we’ve exposed how there are more people on the rolls in many states than are eligible to vote. And we had historic lawsuits that have resulted in those rolls being cleaned up, in states like Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, and most recently in Los Angeles County. In California, they’re going to clean up to 1.56 million names off the rolls—just in L.A. County alone. It’s going to take years to do that, but they haven’t removed a name from the rolls in 20 years in California. Dirty election rolls, it’s pretty clear, obviously, can lead to dirty elections. It’s important they be clean, but we’re also investigating ballot harvesting in California. We initiated an investigation into this ballot-harvesting change in the law in California, which allows third parties to go around and collect ballots. There’s virtually no check on that activity. You wouldn’t believe how unregulated it is. And it’s a recipe for fraud, and [there’s] a reason why it’s not allowed in any other state in the union the way it is in California. So we’re investigating the potential for fraud there. … It’s a matter of great public controversy many people have heard, even if you don’t live in California, about the ballot harvesting.
Mr. Jekielek: Right.
Mr. Fitton: No one’s investigating it. But we are.
Mr. Jekielek: So are there any investigations that are top-of-mind for you that you haven’t told anyone else about yet? Do you want to give our audience a bit of a hint here?
Mr. Fitton: We tend to be an open book, you know? We’re looking at this Russia deep state, we’re looking at Hillary Clinton, we’re looking at election integrity. We’re concerned about the rule of law and immigration. I just wish there were more members of Congress who were doing the proper oversight. I wish that federal agencies would think more about being honest and open and transparent about these problems, rather than trying to cover them up. And, obviously, we wish we had more of a commitment to the rule of law and immigration from this massive sanctuary movement that is just essentially telling everyone, “Once you cross the border, don’t worry, we’ll protect you.” You can have a wall 100 feet high, but if you have every major big city in the country deeming themselves a sanctuary city and protecting illegal aliens, you know, that wall won’t work as well as it otherwise would have.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.