A new lawsuit filed on Friday is seeking the immediate release of records concerning the Trump administration’s prepublication review of former senior White House officials. The plaintiffs want to find out whether the administration is exploiting the process in an effort to keep unclassified but politically damaging information out of the public sphere.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the ACLU, is based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to the prepublication review of works that “laud or criticize” the administration’s signature policies. The records, which the plaintiffs say have not been produced after several months in violation of FOIA, would allow for a comparison to see if works praising the administration are given favorable treatment disparaging works are held back.
“Recent events strongly suggest that the Trump administration is abusing the prepublication review process to keep the public from knowing critical information about the president and his administration in the lead up to the 2020 elections,” Knight staff attorney Ramya Krishnan said in a Friday press release. “If the administration is using prepublication review as a tool to favor loyalists and to silence its critics, the public has a right to know before the elections.”
The complaint comes on the heels of the administration suing former National Security Advisor John Bolton and seeking a restraining order against the release of his tell-all book. Bolton’s book, which contains some politically embarrassing revelations about President Donald Trump and senior White House officials, was initially reviewed and approved for publication until the White House reversed the decision, allegedly to protect Trump.
“The press reported that President Trump directed his staff to prevent the publication of the [Bolton’s book] prior to the presidential election, and the review process that then followed was an unusual and lengthy one, ultimately involving some of the Administration’s most senior officials,” the lawsuit stated. “The requested records will help the public to evaluate whether the Administration has strategically deployed prepublication review to amplify favorable speech and suppress critical speech. It is crucial that the electorate can make such a determination prior to the November 2020 election so it can assess whether the information cleared by the Administration is accurate or whether it reflects an improperly censored account of the Administration’s activities.”
The Knight Institute and ACLU complaint is the second lawsuit in as many days to be filed against the administration for failing to produce records associated with the prepublication review process of Bolton’s book.
“If this is how the administration is treating high-profile former officials in the spotlight, imagine how they’re treating the millions of others who don’t have the resources to fight back,” Brett Max Kaufman, an ACLU Senior Staff Attorney, said in a press release.
The Knight Institute and the ACLU last year filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s prepublication review process as unconstitutionally violating the First and Fifth Amendments. That lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year and an appeal is pending.
See below for the filed complaint.
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images]
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