The Department of Justice (DOJ) is concealing key documents related to President Joe Biden’s March 2021 order that directed executive agencies to develop plans for federal interference in state election administration.
On Sept. 8, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) was scheduled to receive a series of government records from the DOJ that detailed how the agency is complying with Executive Order 14019. That order mandated all federal departments to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.” Among these included the DOJ’s 15-page “strategic plan” on how the agency intends to comply with Biden’s executive order.
Instead of releasing the documents FGA requested pursuant to federal open records laws, however, the Biden DOJ released only a few records pertaining to the order, most of which were heavily redacted.
In one of the emails dated June 11, 2021, for example, Special Assistant to the Deputy White House Counsels Devontae Freeland writes to a redacted list of administration officials about the submission of June 15 interim reports regarding Biden’s executive order.
“Thank you for your work on the Promoting Access to Voting EO implementation plans,” Freeland wrote. “The interim reports, which are due this Tuesday 6/15, can be submitted by email [redacted] as a Word doc. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns.”
In a separate email chain dated June 21, 2021, Freeland discusses a proposed Zoom meeting between members of the administration and numerous “election officials” and “nonprofit organizations” engaged in “voting rights advocacy” and those with “expertise in reaching out to … particular populations of voters who may be more difficult to reach.”
According to Freeland, the goal of the meeting was to purportedly garner “recommendations” and “thoughts on best practices” on how to best fulfill the requests in Biden’s order.
“We believe that these sessions will provide some helpful feedback as you further refine the strategic plans due to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy on September 23, 2021,” the email reads.
While the emails don’t specify which election officials or nonprofits took part in the meeting, Freeland does say that the administration reached out to “10 pragmatic state and local officials, from different parts of the country, serving very different constituencies,” with the group including “Democrats and Republicans and those with no partisan affiliation.”
“The American people deserve to know if the Biden Administration’s unprecedented action is fair and non-partisan, or if it is designed to help one political party over the other,” said FGA President and CEO Tarren Bragdon in a statement. “Why are they ignoring public record requests for strategic plans on federal voter registration efforts? Why are they treating these documents like they are classified information dealing with nuclear weapons? Midterms are approaching, and the DOJ’s failure to disclose information raises troubling issues. They need to reveal these public documents to keep our elections fair.”
FGA sued the DOJ in April 2022 after the agency failed to respond to the organization’s July 2021 open records requests related to Biden’s order. Nearly a year later, on July 12, 2022, a federal district court judge ordered the DOJ to turn over the documents before the midterm elections. The DOJ did so, but with heavy redactions that defy the intent of the order.
In addition to the Sept. 8 document dump, FGA is also scheduled to receive documents from the DOJ on Sept. 20 and Oct. 20, with the group set to publish such records on Sept. 27 and Oct. 25, respectively.
Additional organizations that have filed lawsuits against the Biden administration for refusing to comply with open records requests related to Biden’s directive include the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) and the Center for Renewing America (CRA). Filed against agencies including the Departments of Labor, Defense, and Education in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the litigation has yet to compel the administration to turn over federal records that would show how public employees are carrying out Biden’s order.