For several years we have been seeking records of then President-elect Barack Obama’s interview with two FBI agents and two assistant U.S. attorneys regarding former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to fourteen years in federal prison for attempting to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were rejected, and so we have now filed a lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No 1:16-cv-00576)) against the U.S. Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking the FBI interview records of Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Valerie Jarrett.
The FBI denied our June 1, 2011, FOIA request seeking:
- Records of FBI interviews with Barack Obama concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records of FBI interviews with Rahm Emanuel concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records of FBI interviews with Valerie Jarrett concerning or relating to Rod Blagojevich, including but not limited to notes, summaries, and recordings of the interview.
- Records concerning any of the aforementioned interviews with Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, or Valerie Jarrett.
The FBI contends the release of these records “could reasonably be expected” to interfere with law enforcement proceedings and withheld them under Exemption 7 (which allows agency to withhold certain law enforcement records).
Here is the background:
On December 18, 2008, about a week after Blagojevich’s arrest, then-President-elect Barack Obama was questioned at his Chicago transition office about the scandal surrounding the alleged sale of the Senate seat he vacated in 2008. We are seeking the FBI summaries from this interview.
In January 2009, we released documents from the office of then-Governor Rod Blagojevich related to Blagojevich’s contacts with President-elect Obama and his transition team. The documents include a December 3, 2008, letter from Barack Obama following his December 2, 2008, meeting with Blagojevich, as well as a November 17, 2008, letter signed by Presidential Transition Team co-chairs Valerie Jarrett and John Podesta, providing Blagojevich with a list of transition team contacts. These documents tend to undermine Obama’s claims that he had no contact with Blagojevich.
Blagojevich was convicted on 17 of the 20 public corruption charges against him, some of which have been vacated. He is not scheduled for release until 2024. The Supreme Court has refused to hear his appeal on the 13 remaining corruption charges. A federal judge has scheduled Blagojevich to be resentenced on June 30, 2016.
Writing in The Washington Examiner, Rudy Takala noted, “There are no enforcement proceedings related to the case known to be pending, leading critics to charge that the agency's denial is politically motivated.”
Well, yes. This lawsuit highlights the personal corruption issues of Barack Obama. He and his closest aides were interviewed by the FBI in a criminal investigation, and his administration doesn’t want Americans to have the details. The Chicago way shouldn’t trump the American people’s right to know.
It won’t if we have anything to do with it.
Until next week …
Tom Fitton is the President of Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption. Founded in 1994, Judicial Watch seeks to ensure government and judicial officials act ethically and do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American public.