Press release

Justice Initiative Sues U.S. Government for Trump Administration’s COVID-19 Records

August 12, 2020
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NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has filed a lawsuit under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking the immediate release of government records relating to the timing and substance of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

This lawsuit before a federal court in the Southern District of New York follows the U.S. government’s failure to respond to FOIA requests filed in late June by the Justice Initiative with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

The case argues that the records requested are critical for assessing the administration’s response to the pandemic, especially given that the executive branch’s efforts to counter COVID-19 constitute a matter of life and death for the American public. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public has a right to know how the U.S. government is responding to COVID-19—including what it knew and when about the virus, and measures it is taking, or failing to take, to stem the spread.

“In the face of a rapidly mounting death toll, the President continues to deny the truth and insist that the virus will simply ‘go away’,” said Amrit Singh, lawyer for the Justice Initiative in the case. “The public is entitled to know the full truth about what the administration knew about the virus and when, and why it failed to act.”

The filing is related to a preceding complaint filed on July 2, 2020, in the same court by the Justice Initiative against the CIA, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the U. S. Indo-Pacific Command. The preceding lawsuit also sought disclosure of government records related to the timing and substance of the administration’s response to the novel coronavirus. Despite extensive reporting on the administration’s failure to act in a timely manner on intelligence agencies’ early knowledge of the pandemic, the CIA responded to the Justice Initiative’s FOIA request by refusing to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records.

“The government’s failure to disclose records that would allow the public to evaluate its response to the pandemic is unlawful and immoral, especially in light of hundreds of thousands of lives needlessly lost to the pandemic,” said Justice Initiative Advocacy Officer Natasha Arnpriester. “The CIA’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records is especially egregious in this context.”

In addition to Singh and Arnpriester, the Justice Initiative is represented by James Goldston and Malcolm Dort of the Justice Initiative, together with co-counsel from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, including Mark F. Mendelsohn, Eric Alan Stone, Daniel Klein, and Tanya Manno.

The complete filing can be accessed here. Documents released can be viewed via the Open Society Foundations’ account on Document Cloud.

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