Since D.C. officials refused to turn over any documents about their investigation and decision not to prosecute NBC News’ David Gregory, we have to depend on the Freedom of Information Act to force transparency.
Mayor Vincent Gray’s office, however, responded to my request by deflecting. It turned out, he was hiding information.
On March 11, I sent a detailed request to FOIA Officer Mikelle DeVillier in the Executive Office of the Mayor. I asked for all documents about Mr. Gregory’s possession of an illegal 30-round magazine. Government agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 15 working days.
Ms. DeVillier used every hour of that time frame, responding to me on April 1.
“These are not the type of documents generally maintained by the Executive Office of the Mayor,” she wrote. “Based upon the information requested, and my familiarity with the various District agencies, this request would be more properly directed to [Metropolitan Police Department] and the [Office of the Attorney General].”
This appeared to be just passing the buck, but the next part made me realize the agencies were all in cahoots.
“However, it has come to my attention that this request was also previously submitted, by you, to the aforementioned agencies.” Ms. DeVillier wrote. “It is my understanding that MPD and OAG will respond to your FOIA request.”
In fact, the FOIA requests to the two agencies and the mayor’s office asked for different documents. I deliberately sent them separately to see if one would hand over a document that another would not and to track who was in communications with NBC and its representatives.
I replied to Ms. DeVillier the same day. “It does not answer my request to know if the mayor's office has any documents related to this case. Has his office been in contact with NBC, OAG or MPD on any of the matters listed in my request?”
She did not respond.
On April 22, I emailed again: “I've waited three weeks for you to respond to my last email, so I know whether I need to escalate this request.”
Six hours later, she responded with a second FOIA letter, this one containing new information that she had attempted to hide on the first round.
Ms. DeVillier reiterated that the information I wanted would come from the police and the prosecutor, then added: “However, at your request, an additional search was conducted within [the mayor’s office] that yielded electronic mail documents responsive to your request.”
But, this new discovery was still being withheld from the public.
The mayor refused to turn over three emails between his spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, and the communications office staff due to the “deliberative process.”
Claiming attorney-client privilege, he did not turn over three email chains between his chief of staff, Christopher Murphy, and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan and two email chains between Mr. Nathan, Mr. Murphy and the Mr. Ribeiro.
George Lyon, a D.C. firearms attorney, said the mayor's excuse not to release the documents was suspect.
"Attorney-client privilege is invoked for communications between an attorney and client for legal advice," explained Mr. Lyon. "The mayor's claim of attorney-client privilege on correspondence relating to Gregory would mean he received legal advice from OAG. That would make sense only if he had a role in deciding whether to prosecute Gregory."
The Legal Insurrection blog has been trying to get all the documents surrounding the David Gregory case for almost six months. The blog’s lead author William A. Jacobson told me that his FOIA requests have not been fulfilled.
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the city on behalf of Mr. Jacobson’s legal blog.
“We want to know who did what and when as to obtaining the illegal ammunition magazine, the full details of the investigation culminating in the presentation by MPD of a warrant and supporting affidavit,” Mr. Jacobson told me.
The Cornell law professor also wants the city to hand over “all communications internally and with David Gregory's attorneys culminating in the decision not to prosecute."
D.C. officials can stonewall and deceive the press, but the truth will eventually come out publicly. And when it does, we will know for sure if the powerful TV anchor got preferential treatment after breaking the city’s firearms laws.
Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of "Emily Gets Her Gun" (Regnery, 2013).
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