DOJ Inspector General Complains About FBI Foot-dragging

Late last week, the Inspector General (IG) for the Justice Department sent a letter to Congress complaining of the FBI’s refusal to set a timeline for turning over documents related to an IG investigation of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s use of subpoenas to gain access to and use certain bulk data collections.

The IG has been seeking documents related to its investigation since Nov. 20, 2014. While the FBI has provided some of the requested information to the IG, negotiations over other documents led to a production deadline of Feb. 13, 2015. When the FBI communicated it would miss that deadline, it would not commit to a new deadline, triggering the IG’s letter to Congress.

Interestingly, the IG also challenged the FBI’s interpretation of what information can be withheld during IG investigations. As the IG pointed out, allowing “access to records of the [DOJ] only when granted permission by the Department’s leadership is inconsistent” with the IG Act, the Appropriations Act, and general IG independence.

The full letter is below.

Dear Chairmen, Vice Chairwoman, and Ranking Member:

This letter is to report to the Committees on Appropriations, as required by Section 218 of the Department of Justice Appropriations Act, 2015, Pub. L. No. 113-235, § 218, 128 Stat. 2130, 2200 (2014), that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has failed, for reasons unrelated to any express limitation in Section 6(a) of the Inspector General Act (IG Act), to provide the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with timely access to certain records. The OIG requested these records in connection with an ongoing review of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s use of administrative subpoenas to obtain and utilize certain bulk data collections.

As you are aware, Section 218 provides:

No funds provided in this Act shall be used to deny the Inspector General of the Department of Justice timely access to all records, documents, and other materials in the custody of the Department or to prevent or impede the Inspector General’s access to such records, documents and other materials, unless in accordance with an express limitation of section 6(a) of the Inspector General Act, as amended, consistent with the plain language of the Inspector General Act, as amended. The Inspector General of the Department of Justice shall report to the Committees on Appropriations within five calendar days of any failures to comply with this requirement.

Id.

The unfulfilled information request that causes the OIG to make this report was sent to the FBI on November 20,2014. Since that time, the FBI has made a partial production in this matter, and there have been multiple discussions between the OIG and the FBI about this request, resulting in the OIG setting a final deadline for production of all material of February 13,2015.

On February 12, 2015, the FBI informed the OIG that it would not be able to produce the remaining records by the deadline. The FBI gave an estimate of 1-2 weeks to complete the production but did not commit to do so by a date certain. The reason for the FBI’s inability to meet the prior deadline set by the OIG for production is the FBI’s desire to continue its review of emails requested by the OIG to determine whether they contain any information which the FBI maintains the OIG is not legally entitled to access, such as grand jury, Title III electronic surveillance, and Fair Credit Reporting Act information. It has been the FBI’s position in other cases that, for any such information it identified, it would need the authorization of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General in order to produce the information to the OIG. However, Section 6(a) of the IG Act does not contain an express limitation of the OIG’s access to these categories of information. Moreover, even if the Department’s leadership were to give such authorization, a process allowing the OIG access to records of the Department only when granted permission by the Department’s leadership is inconsistent with Section 6(a) of the IG Act, OIG independence, and Section 218 of the Appropriations Act.

Section 218 of the Appropriations Act does not permit the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Justice to deny the OIG access to records in the custody of the Department unless in accordance with an express limitation of Section 6(a) of the IG Act. The IG Act, Section 6(a), does not expressly or otherwise limit the OIG’s access to the categories of information the FBI maintains it must review before providing records to the OIG. For this reason, we are reporting this matter to the Appropriations Committees in conformity with Section 218.

We will continue to work to resolve this matter, and will keep the Committees apprised of our progress. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or Chief of Staff Jay Lerner at (202) 514-3435.

Sincerely,
Michael E. Horowitz
Inspector General

 

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About the Author(s)

Megan Graham

Former Assistant Managing Editor and Security, Privacy, and Technology Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@meganmcgraham).