The FBI on Tuesday rejected an open records request from The Federalist for any and all emails sent to or from CNN the day of the pre-dawn raid at the home of Roger Stone.
“Please provide all e-mails sent to or received from any account with a ‘cnn.com’ domain from January 24, 2019 through January 25, 2019,” The Federalist wrote in a Freedom Of Information Act request submitted on the morning of January 25, 2019.
CNN was the only network present at the Fort Lauderdale home of Roger Stone, a former Trump associate who was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, prior to the arrival of FBI agents dispatched to arrest the bombastic former Nixon aide. The pre-dawn arrival of CNN at what was supposed to be a surprise raid of Stone’s home raised questions about whether the network had been tipped off about the impending FBI arrest of Stone.
David Shortell, the CNN reporter who broadcast live from Stone’s home during the raid, rejected suggestions that he had been tipped off to the raid and claimed that it was a gut feeling that compelled him to camp outside Stone’s residence the same day federal agents showed up to arrest Stone.
“It’s reporter’s instinct,” Shortell said shortly after the raid, according to the Washington Examiner.
In a letter to The Federalist justifying its refusal to provide the request records, the FBI claimed that the request for emails to and from a specific domain sent or received on two specific dates was “overly broad,” did not provide “enough detail to enable personnel to locate” the records, and sought information in “vague and undefined terms.” The FBI further claimed that the underlying request itself, which specified both the date and the sender’s or recipient’s email domain, did not comply with federal regulations regarding requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Using the same rationale, the FBI also rejected a separate FOIA request from The Federalist which specifically requested any and all FBI emails on the day of the Stone raid sent to or from Josh Campbell, a former FBI employee who worked under James Comey, former director of the FBI, and now works as a law enforcement analyst for CNN, as well as any and all emails from that day specifically mentioning Roger Stone.
“To the extent possible, requesters should include specific information that may assist a component in identifying the requested records, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, subject matter of the record, case number, file designation, or reference number,” state the federal regulations governing FOIA requests. “In general, requesters should include as much detail as possible about the specific records or the types of records that they are seeking.”
The FBI did not explain how a request noting a specific date, specific character string, and specific sender or recipient did not satisfy federal regulations covering open records requests made pursuant FOIA.
Last year, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, issued a scathing report detailing a culture of unauthorized leaking within the FBI.
“We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review,” the inspector general wrote in the report. “We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.”
“We do not believe the problem is with the FBI’s policy, which we found to be clear and unambiguous,” the report noted. “Rather, we concluded that these leaks highlight the need to change what appears to be a cultural attitude among many in the organization.”
The inspector general also suggested that FBI personnel were receiving gifts from reporters in exchange for leaks, including “tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.”
The report noted that the inspector general’s office was conducting a separate investigation on the brewing gifts-for-leaks scandal within the FBI and would release that report to the public once it was concluded.