The U.S. Department of Justice refuses to expedite a public records request for subpoenas issued by the Eastern District of North Carolina because it doesn’t believe the government’s integrity is in question affecting public confidence.
NC Policy Watch on Sept. 10 sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the federal government asking for “Any and all subpoenas issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina from Aug. 1, 2018, to Sept. 10, 2018, and any and all correspondence and memorandum about those subpoenas during the same time frame.”
The request was supposed to be answered by Oct. 9, 20 business days from when it was sent. The government sent two letters today — one denying a request to expedite its response and another putting the request on the “complex track” and giving themselves an additional 10 business days to respond.
“Your request seeks records from one or more field offices, and involves many voluminous records and/or requires consultation with another agency/component with a substantial interest in the subject-matter and therefore falls within ‘unusual circumstances’ as set forth in the state,” the DOJ response states.
The DOJ did not return a request to discuss the FOIA further. It should be noted, however, that all requested documents would be held by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina — not “one or more field offices.”
NC Policy Watch also has already seen several subpoenas — 45 to be exact — and it took less than one day to receive them from other entities, so it’s not clear how the request was moved to the “complex” track.
Similarly, it’s not known why the DOJ denied the request to expedite documents. One of the requirements to be granted expedition is “that the request involves a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government’s integrity which affect public confidence.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina sent unprecedented requests for millions of voter records that would have compromised the privacy of voters in North Carolina. It sent them to the State Board of Elections, county boards, the Department of Motor Vehicles and possibly more entities. The requests were massive and only made in North Carolina, where an important midterm election is looming.
The subpoenas garnered so much exceptional media coverage that the Attorney’s Office ended up rescinding part of its request and extending the deadline for which it sought public records. Election officials called into question the validity of the subpoenas and voting rights advocates pointed out the similarities in what the subpoenas requested to the now defunct Pence-Kobach Commission.
Prominent politicians also requested a federal investigation into the federal government’s involvement with the subpoenas and pointed out the relationship between U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. and President Donald Trump, who appointed him.
“As a representative of the news media affiliated with NC Policy Watch, I am gathering information on subpoenas that have been issued in North Carolina that is of current interest to the public because of the unprecedented nature of the volume of voter information requested,” the request to expedite records states. “The state is less than two months from an election and the government’s integrity has been called into question with regard to the information they are seeking and the timing for which they are seeking it. The public’s confidence in their election process is at stake as there have not been any answers about why these subpoenas were issued or how many of them there are.”
NC Policy Watch plans to appeal the denial to expedite the request. Read both of Monday’s letters from the DOJ below.