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Gizmodo Loses FOIA Lawsuit Over Trump Wiretap Claims

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 04, 2019

A federal judge rejected a media request for information about alleged wiretaps of President Trump.

Gizmodo Media Group had filed a Freedom of Information complaint against the Department of Justice, but the judge said the DOJ acted lawfully by not confirming or denying the information existed.

It came down to whether the president had publicly disclosed details about the alleged wiretaps. Because of Gizmodo Media Group v. Department of Justice, the public may never know if it was just fake news.

Trump Tower Tweet

In early 2017, Breitbart News said that members of Trump's presidential campaign had been wiretapped by the Obama administration. The president quickly tweeted his reaction:

"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory," Trump tweeted. '“Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

A buzz about "false wiretapping claims" generated more controversy than the original news story. The White House officially refused to engage, but the New York Times said FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to deny Trump's accusations.

Gizmodo submitted an FOIA request to the DOJ for the wiretaps. The media agency said it was public information because the President had tweeted it out.

The government responded, saying it would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the alleged wiretaps. The FOIA exempts disclosure of information that may jeopardize national security.

"Broad Stroke" Disclosure

The media company took the matter to the federal court in New York. Judge Denise Cote stood by the DOJ.

Cote said the President had tweeted some information about surveillance, but that was not enough to compel disclosure about all surveillance. He said the government acted within its rights, notwithstanding the President's general disclosure.

"President Trump discussed surveillance of his Campaign in broad strokes," the judge said. "He did not refer to any targets of this surveillance apart from himself, or to any number of targets."

The judge said the president's tweets were too vague to stop the DOJ from either denying or confirming the existence of the wiretap information.

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