WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Eastern District of Virginia to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the DOJ has refused to answer for 12 months. The request seeks documents related to the DOJ’s failure to require Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and its refusal to answer congressional oversight questions probing the controversy.
On September 14, 2020, the Chief of the DOJ’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Jay Bratt, wrote to Al Jazeera’s lawyers at DLA Piper, finding that AJ+—a subsidiary of Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN)—“is obligated to register under” FARA because it engages in “political activities within the United States” and acts “as a publicity agent … on behalf of the Government of Qatar and [AJMN], each of which is considered a foreign principal under the Act.” The DOJ found that Al Jazeera and its related entities engage in “political activities” on behalf of Qatar’s government and are designed to “influence American perceptions” of domestic policy. The letter, which has been previously reported by Mother Jones and The New York Times, but which has not been previously posted in full, can be found here.
Nineteen Members of Congress had asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions about Al Jazeera’s need to file a FARA registration in March 2018. In June 2019 and July 2021, a group of six senators also wrote to both Attorneys General Bill Barr and Merrick Garland.
Despite the DOJ’s letter informing Al Jazeera of its obligation to register, press coverage of the letter in the New York Times, and congressional oversight efforts, it appears that Al Jazeera has failed to comply with its obligation and that the DOJ has failed to enforce the law requiring registration.
After the DOJ’s refusal to comply with congressional oversight efforts, Empower Oversight filed a FOIA request in January 2022 seeking documents related to both the DOJ’s underlying failure to enforce the law as well its failure to answer related congressional oversight requests. The FOIA request seeks records of all communications regarding the congressional letters along with communications between Al Jazeera’s lawyers and DOJ regarding Al Jazeera and FARA.
“FARA and FOIA are important statutes designed to ensure transparency for the American people,” said Jason Foster, President and Founder of Empower Oversight. “The public deserves to know why the DOJ has failed to require a media organization it says is obligated to register as an agent of a foreign government to do so. DOJ’s stonewalling of Congress and the public on this issue is unacceptable.”
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.