Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice seeking access to FBI reports of interviews – “302s” – of President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Rahm Emanuel. The interviews were taken as part of the FBI’s criminal investigation of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:16-cv-01888)).
In 2008, Blagojevich sought political favors in exchange for deciding who to appoint to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-President-Elect Obama. Among the persons Blagojevich approached were the President-elect and his intermediaries. Obama reportedly declined to make a deal. Blagojevich then turned to supporters of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., offering the U.S. Senate seat in return for a $1.5 million “campaign contribution.” Blagojevich broke off negotiations with Rep. Jackson’s supporters when he learned that he was being wiretapped by federal investigators.
Over the course of two criminal trials in 2010 and 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of 18 separate offenses and, in December 2011, was sentenced to 168 months in jail. In 2015, an appellate court overturned five of Blagojevich’s convictions and affirmed the remainder. On August 12, 2016, Blagojevich was resentenced to the same, 68-month jail term he had received previously.
Judicial Watch had asked the FBI to produce the 302s, pursuant to FOIA, in June 2011. The FBI confirmed the records’ existence in 2012, but denied the request, asserting that the 302s were exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 7(A) because Blagojevich’s criminal case was still ongoing at the time. Judicial Watch filed suit to try to obtain the 302s in May 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Blagojevich’s convictions. It closed that initial lawsuit while Blagojevich was being resentenced. Judicial Watch refiled its lawsuit after Blagojevich was resentenced.