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Washington Blade targets Grenell’s emails in FOIA lawsuit

A gay newspaper is preparing a smear campaign against the nation’s first openly gay Cabinet member.

Richard Grenell // The Times of Israel

On Tuesday, the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest LGBT newspaper, filed a lawsuit with a federal court seeking to obtain thousands of Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell’s emails pertaining to the effort within the Trump administration to decriminalize homosexuality around the globe.

In the end of 2019, former President Donald Trump announced the decriminalization effort and asked Grenell, the first openly gay Cabinet member in the United States, to help spearhead it. In a historic first, President Trump spoke to the United Nations General Assembly saying, “As we defend American values, we affirm the right of all people to live in dignity. For this reason, my administration is working with other nations to stop the criminalizing of homosexuality, and we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.”

Since the end of Trump’s presidency, many left wing outlets have discredited the effort calling it “smoke and mirrors.” The Washington Blade seems to be trying to substantiate these discrediting claims.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of State and is essentially a complaint that the State Department is not acting fast enough in addressing the original request for the emails in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. That request was submitted to the State Department in September 2020.

Chris Johnson, White House reporter for the Blade, is a co-plaintiff and author of the lawsuit that was filed last week. “Our litigation goals are obtaining the information sought in our FOIA request to educate the public on the extent the Trump administration was committed to the initiative to decriminalize homosexuality,” Johnson said in a report in the Blade. “Our readers are interested in knowing how the initiative Grenell led was received in the Trump administration and any support he found or opposition he encountered.”

However, Johnson’s motives are not completely forthcoming in this statement. Johnson details in the lawsuit that he is searching for this information explicitly for the purpose of having information on Grenell if he were to ever run for public office.

 At first, Johnson does not name Grenell specifically, although the allusion is undeniable. “This information is critical for voters who would want to be informed of their elected officials’ activities, as well as the activities of those government officials who speak on behalf of the United States and its citizens as ambassadors, especially if and when such an individual is contemplating running for the office of governor of a state within the United States,” Johnson penned in his lawsuit.

Later on, however, Johnson directly states his mission in garnering the requested emails. “If and when Grenell runs for governor of California, voters will want to know about his record on LGBTQ issues and the extent of his success, if any, at promoting the interests of the LGBTQ community in his past roles in the Department of State under the Trump administration.”

In its original FOIA request from Sept. 25, 2020, the Blade requested “all emails to and from the persons in the role of U.S. ambassador to Germany including the words ‘initiative’, ‘homosexuality, ‘gay’, ‘criminalize’, ‘decriminalize’, ‘criminalization’, or ‘decriminalization’ from May 15, 2019 to June 30, 2020.” A request for all emails containing any of these seven words, especially in isolation, could potentially yield thousands of results.

Johnson maintains that he was contacted by the State Department letting him know that his request will be fulfilled, but due to a backlog of requests, it would take some time. The agency also denied his request for expedited processing as he did not “demonstrate a compelling need for the requested information.”

Johnson’s main complaint is that the office is dragging its feet and not complying with the timeline he claims is set out in the FOIA.  In his report in the Blade, Johnson says, “FOIA requires the U.S. government to respond to a request within a matter of weeks, not months or years.”

While the lawsuit claims the State Department did respond within a reasonable amount of time, the actual verbiage of the Freedom of Information Act states that the relevant office has up to a year to fulfill a request. “For records created on or after November 1, 1996, within one year after such date, each agency shall make such records available, including by computer telecommunications or, if computer telecommunications means have not been established by the agency, by other electronic means,” the act states.

The Freedom of Information Act also states that agencies are entitled to redact any personal or confidential information from records before submitting them to the requester. “To the extent required to prevent a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, an agency may delete identifying details when it makes available or publishes an opinion, statement of policy, interpretation, staff manual, instruction, or copies of records,” the act states.

For what is undoubtedly a large volume of information and emails requested by Johnson, the task of redacting and then explaining the redactions may be enormous. The act further dictates that in the case of a request involving a large amount of information, the governmental body is allowed more time to fulfill the request as long as the requester is notified, which by Johnson’s own admission he was.

While the State Department is presently operating within the rules of law, Johnson appears upset that his aim for the request is being undermined, by his own admission. He wrote in the lawsuit, “By the time the DOS’s estimated date of completion (October 23, 2023) arrives, more than three years will have passed since the date of the request, California’s 2021 Gubernatorial Election will be long-over, and the purpose of the request will have disappeared.”

Outspoken reached out to Johnson to inquire what other, if any, openly-LGBT officials he or his newspaper have submitted FOIA requests for correspondences, if he or the Blade ever made FOIA requests into any Obama administration officials or any requests for correspondences relating to LGBT issues among Democrats. He did not respond by the time of publication.

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