FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Even before West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice jumped into the race for Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) seat yesterday, his office deployed some hardball — and legally questionable — maneuvers.
The DSCC filed a Freedom of Information Act request on March 30 in West Virginia seeking Justice’s “official schedule or official calendar from January 2017 to present,” as well as the schedules or calendars of three of Justice’s staffers. It’s a standard move for opposition researchers digging into a sitting public official, and DSCC Research Director Diana Astiz noted in the request that state law “permits disclosure of personal communications when the content or context relates to the conduct of the public’s business.”
On April 6, Justice’s office responded to the initial request, denying access. “None of the individuals above maintains a schedule or calendar solely for official business, as all calendars are reserved for the convenience of those individuals and contain both personal and official appointments,” the response letter states. The denial also cited a federal FOIA law as grounds for its refusal.
Then, on April 13, the DSCC refiled the request, noting that the federal FOIA statute has no bearing on West Virginia state law, which allows public access to “any writing containing information prepared or received by a public body, the content or context of which, judged either by content or context, relates to the conduct of the public’s business.”
Justice’s office responded on April 20, again denying the release of any schedules or calendars, this time citing both federal law and a Kentucky appeals court ruling dealing with that state’s FOIA law. General Counsel J. Berkeley Bentley wrote that the decision was final and that Democrats could sue if they didn’t like it.
A spokesperson for Justice’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The DSCC, meanwhile, is considering its options. Spokesperson David Bergstein said Justice, who is already facing questions about his business dealings, “will face a level of scrutiny that he’s never encountered before.”
“His refusal to disclose his work schedule, or lack thereof, raises many additional questions that will undoubtedly be surfaced within this brutal Republican primary,” Bergstein added.
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