As you may remember, earlier this summer, we (and many others) wrote about the ridiculous situation whereby Assistant US Attorney Niketh Velamoor not only sought a bogus subpoena for information on some hyperbolic commenters on the site Reason.com, but also obtained a gag order. At the time, I noted that I had sent in FOIA requests to the DOJ for Velamoor’s initial application for the gag order as well as for the DOJ’s guidelines on requesting a gag order. It turned out that Paul Levy, from Public Citizen, did the same — though he (wisely, apparently) made his request directly to Velamoor, rather than to the DOJ’s FOIA office. From that, Levy received a copy of the gag order application, which we wrote about last month.
So, imagine my surprise to have the DOJ finally respond to my FOIA request a month later, only to tell me that it could find no responsive documents to my request. There is no real detail provided. Just this: Of course, FOIA offices are notorious for claiming no responsive docs if you’re not 100% accurate in your request, but I think my request was pretty clear. Here was my request:
The June 4th application for a non-disclosure order by the US Attorneys Office in the Southern District of NY concerning the subpoena issued to Reason Magazine (or Reason.com). The non-disclosure order was granted on June 4th by Judge Frank Maass and vacated on June 19th. I am seeking the original application.
And, as we learned from the document that was released to Levy, it was an “Application for § 2705(b) Grand Jury Non-Disclosure Order to Service Provider.” And it was, indeed, filed and approved on June 4th. And it was clearly “In Re Grand Jury Subpoena to Reason.com.” The idea that the DOJ’s FOIA staff “could find no responsive documents” suggests a serious problem with how the FOIA office works — or how the US Attorney’s Office in NY files their documents. Clearly the document exists. After all it was released to Levy. And the description I gave of the document is pretty damn close to the actual document. I am, of course, free to “appeal” the “no responsive documents” claim, but it’s not clear what the point is here, since the document was already released (unbeknownst to the DOJ’s crack FOIA team).
At the very least, this should call into question how the DOJ handles its FOIA requests.