MFIA Clinic Sues DHS Over Secret Service Records

On October 23, 2017, Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking Secret Service records cataloguing visitors to candidate Donald Trump and campaign advisors during the 2016 election. The Clinic team, consisting of Eric Brooks ’19, Meenakshi Krishnan ’18, and Adam Pan ’19, filed the suit on behalf of Richard Behar, the Contributing Editor of Investigations at Forbes magazine and a reporter for The National Memo.

During the election, candidate Trump and his family received Secret Service protection beginning in November 2015. Recognizing the Secret Service may have records of visitors to Trump and campaign officials, Behar filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with DHS on September 22, 2017. The request seeks Secret Service records “identifying every individual who was screened or noted by the Secret Service because they (a) sought to visit any of the following individuals, or (b) sought access to any secured area where” Trump or certain Trump associates were present. To date, DHS has failed to produce any records.

Read the complaint.

Students from the clinic said the request could shed light on potential conflicts of interest in the Administration, as multiple high-level advisers to the Trump campaign, including Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, reportedly had numerous contacts with Russian individuals, including people associated with the government, as well as industry insiders. For example, in April 2016, Kushner met then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at a campaign event. Later that year, three top Trump campaign advisers met with a Russian lawyer about potentially incriminating details related to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The Secret Service records requested may reveal additional meetings, the clinic said.

“The American public has a right to Secret Service records detailing who visited Trump and those close to him,” said Pan ’19.

“Since Trump took office, headline news reports have revealed entanglements and conflicts of interest in the White House,” said Krishnan ’18, a student director of the clinic. “These records represent one of the public’s few means of finding out who, if anyone, may hold sway over the country’s highest office.”

“When government transparency falters, so too does the public’s trust in its government,” added Pan. “A slew of examples in American history, including secrecy surrounding the country’s war effort in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, demonstrate the harms of secrecy. The modern Freedom of Information Act can be traced directly to overwhelming public outcry for more transparency after Watergate. The government needs to be held responsible for its obligations under FOIA.”

MFIA is a student-led clinic at Yale Law School dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation, and developing policy initiatives. Behar is represented in this matter by Brooks, Krishnan, and Pan, and supervising attorneys John Langford ’14 and Charles Sims ’76.