Federal judge who sentenced Roger Stone to prison orders Trump administration to turn over FOIA'd Ukraine emails

Federal judge who sentenced Roger Stone to prison orders Trump administration to turn over FOIA'd Ukraine emails
Volodymyr Zelensky, Image via Wikimedia Commons / Government of Ukraine.

The Trump Administration has been refusing to publicly release 20 e-mails pertaining to President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine in 2019, insisting that executive privilege protects them from having to do so. But Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge and Barack Obama appointee who sentenced Trump ally Roger Stone to three years in federal prison, disagrees — and she has ordered the Trump Administration to release the e-mails.

Jackson’s decision, reporter Jerry Lambe notes in Law & Crime, “stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the New York Times, which sought communications between Michael Duffey, principal associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Robert Blair, a senior advisor to then-Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.”

Trump and his allies have been arguing that keeping the e-mails from being released publicly is a matter of national security and that a sitting president can claim executive privilege on such matters. OMB Deputy General Counsel Heather Walsh argued that making the e-mails available to the public would “risk harming the quality of the information and advice.”

But the New York Times, in its lawsuit, asserted that the e-mails were not protected by executive privilege and that releasing them would not pose a security threat. In a motion for summary judgement, the Times argued that the federal “government relies principally on the presidential communications privilege to keep documents secret but has failed to justify invocation of the privilege, submitting a thread-bare declaration from an agency FOIA lawyer who traffics largely — and improperly — in hearsay evidence and then testifies about the operations of the White House’s national security apparatus, a topic about which she has no apparent foundational knowledge and, in fact, claims none.”

Jackson agreed with the Times and saw no security threat posed by releasing the e-mails. Executive privilege, according to Jackson, does not protect the release of the e-mails from a Freedom of Information Act request.

Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine in 2019 was discussed extensively during his impeachment. The president faced impeachment after a whistleblower in the federal government complained about his now-infamous July 25, 2019 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who Trump tried to pressure into investigating a political rival: former Vice President Joe Biden, now 2020’s presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and other prominent Democrats asserted that Trump committed an impeachable offense by trying pressure a foreign leader into investigating Biden and withholding military aid to his country in the hope of getting that investigation.

But even though Trump was indicted on two articles of impeachment by the House, he was later acquitted by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

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