WASHINGTON—Nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch is suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) for all communications between a former FBI general counsel and a law firm at the center of the Russia collusion scandal.
The lawsuit was filed after the FBI failed to respond to an Oct. 5, 2018, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking copies of all communications between then-FBI general counsel James Baker and Michael Sussman, a former DOJ attorney and a partner with the Perkins Coie law firm.
The documents sought by Judicial Watch are at the heart of the efforts by the DOJ and the FBI under President Barack Obama in 2016 to verify allegations of collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and elements linked to the Russian government.
“Baker, as the general counsel of the FBI, was acting as an additional channel to basically shovel outside information to government officials,” Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell told The Epoch Times on April 17.
Farrell is a member of the group’s board of directors and its director of investigations and research.
“There was essentially [former FBI counterespionage chief Peter] Strzok, then [former Deputy Associate Attorney General Bruce] Ohr, and now, the third channel is Baker feeding the conspiracy machine,” Farrell said.
“And of course, it’s all sort of self-confirming, it’s ‘Strzok is doing his thing and he’s developed this,’” Farrell explained. “’Meanwhile, Ohr has his backchannel through his wife [Nellie] and she’s doing that,’ and, ‘Oh look, now we have a third confirming source,’ and it’s Baker.”
Farrell compared the situation in the government with what would happen if members of the Judicial Watch board of directors “were all talking to the same people and then coming back here and sharing it while pretending we were talking to different people.”
Judicial Watch filed its suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and told the court that, while the bureau acknowledged receipt of the Oct. 5, 2018, FOIA request seeking the records, it then failed to “produce the requested records or demonstrate that the requested records are lawfully exempt from production.”
The bureau also didn’t “notify plaintiff of the scope of any responsive records defendant intends to produce or withhold and the reasons for any withholdings; or … inform plaintiff that it may appeal any adequately specific, adverse determination,” Judicial Watch told the court.
Judicial Watch asked the court to order the release of all communications and records of meetings between Baker and Sussman from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2016.
It was during that period that Perkins Coie represented former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Sussman retained opposition research firm Fusion GPS on behalf of Clinton and the DNC and served as the go-between for payments by them to the opposition research firm.
Sussman’s boss is Mark E. Elias, who heads Perkins Coie’s political practice. The firm describes him as “a preeminent counselor in the areas of federal and state campaign finance law, ethics, lobbying, and gift rules, as well as recounts and election contests.”
Besides serving as general counsel to the 2016 Clinton campaign, Elias has represented the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Governors Association.
He’s also represented major Democratic political action committees, including Priorities USA, Senate Majority PAC, House Majority PAC, and EMILY’s List.
Baker testified behind closed doors in telling Congress that Sussman was the Perkins Coie attorney who, in a September 2016 meeting, gave him “documents and a thumb drive related to Russian interference in the election, hacking and possible Trump connections.”
It was Fusion GPS that paid former British spy Christopher Steele to compile the infamous dossier bearing his name and containing multiple unproven salacious allegations against Trump.
Judicial Watch previously obtained the release of official documents showing that the FBI paid Steele as an informant during the same period. Steele continued to funnel information to the FBI, despite the bureau severing its informant relationship with him after he revealed it to the news media in November 2016.
Steele’s continued communications to the FBI were conveyed in 2017 by Ohr, whose wife, Nellie, was a Russian specialist working for Fusion GPS.
Asked if he expects the DOJ to fight the Judicial Watch suit, Farrell said: “That’s going to be the test. Does [Attorney General William] Barr’s holding that office truly influence and change and correct the institution, or is he a lone ranger with his own interests and ideas?”
Judicial Watch has filed more FOIA lawsuits than any other group since 2001, with a total of 391, or nearly four times as many as the second-most-active filer, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Contact Mark Tapscott at firstname.lastname@example.org