(WASHINGTON) — One of former President Donald Trump’s official representatives to the National Archives — the agency that sparked the Justice Department’s probe of Trump’s handling of classified documents — has now sued the Justice Department and the National Archives, demanding access to documents that the government has said may themselves contain classified information.
At the heart of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday by pro-Trump journalist John Solomon, is what Solomon describes in court records as “a binder of documents” — “about 10 inches thick” — that come from the FBI’s past probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Solomon once asserted that the documents would offer “big revelations” about the probe, which he’s called “one of the dirtiest political tricks in American history.”
As ABC News previously reported, Trump tried to make the binder’s worth of documents public the night before he left office, issuing a “declassification” memo for much of the material and secretly meeting with Solomon, who was allowed to review the documents and later keep a batch of them.
In closed-door testimony to Congress last year, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said 10 to 15 staffers working for the National Security Council had been tasked with “making copies” of the documents for Solomon and others. At the same time, Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows, also had copies of a different “previous version” of the documents, which weren’t redacted the same way, she testified.
After the Justice Department expressed privacy-related concerns about them being released, Meadows returned his documents to the department — expecting them to be reviewed and then made public. But for more than two years, none of those documents were released.
Solomon and another of Trump’s representatives to the National Archives, former Trump administration official Kash Patel, have suggested that politics were at play. But in private emails with Solomon and Patel, which Solomon filed in court to support his lawsuit, National Archives general counsel Gary Stern insisted otherwise.
Stern said his agency never received the “binder” that Meadows returned to the Justice Department. The National Archives did, however, receive a box filled with 2,700 pages of documents, which, according to Solomon, were the copies made “in preparation to be released to the news media on the morning of Jan. 20.”
As Stern told Solomon in the emails, the thousands of pages of documents had “varying types of classification and declassification markings,” with “no clear organization or delineation.” Different copies of the same documents were “redacted differently,” while “some documents did not have the required declassification markings,” Stern said.
That left “uncertainty with respect to the status of classified information,” which under federal law prohibited the National Archives from releasing any of the documents until what was actually declassified could be confirmed, Stern said.
In his lawsuit, however, Solomon argues that the documents are being “wrongfully withheld” from him because, he claims, they are presidential records and he is Trump’s official representative — even if it is “in his capacity as a journalist.”
“This is a case about two government agencies apparently colluding to evade the Presidential Records Act,” says Solomon’s lawsuit, which was filed in Washington, D.C. federal court.
In their emails to the National Archives, Solomon and Patel insisted that — at the least — Patel should be able to access the documents because, they both said, Patel had an “active” security clearance. But Stern told Patel that his agency’s “personnel security office could not find an active clearance” for Patel in its own systems or through other efforts. It’s unclear from the emails whether Patel’s clearance was ever confirmed.
Solomon’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday, came on the same day ABC News reported that the Justice Department has preliminary evidence that Trump may have deliberately misled his own attorneys about classified materials held at his Mar-a-Lago estate and elsewhere.
When the FBI sought approval from a judge to raid Mar-a-Lago last summer, it noted — among many other things — that Patel publicly claimed Trump had already “declassified the materials at issue.” Patel blasted the Justice Department for including his name in since-released court documents referencing those public comments, claiming the department was putting his safety in jeopardy.
Last year, citing the Freedom of Information Act, the conservative group Judicial Watch filed its own lawsuit asking a federal judge to force the Justice Department to release the Russia-related documents. According to the Justice Department, it has already provided at least 340 pages of heavily-redacted documents to Judicial Watch, and it has vowed to provide more than 800 pages in total.
Stern did not respond to request for comment from ABC News. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.