An ethics watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice alleging that it has wrongly withheld documents pertaining to its investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The suit, filed in federal court Tuesday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), asks the court to order the Justice Department (DoJ) and FBI to "disclose in their entireties all records" the group asked for in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October 2010.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We hope they will reconsider and decide to release some documents," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a telephone interview.

DeLay was the subject of a six-year federal investigation until August, when the Justice Department dropped the probe without filing charges. Federal authorities focused on DeLay's ties to convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a scandal which helped end Republican control of the House in 2006.

The former GOP power broker, who earned the nickname "The Hammer," was sentenced in January to three years in prison for his conviction in Texas on charges of conspiring to launder corporate money into a political campaign fund. DeLay is appealing the decision.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the suit, the DoJ and FBI denied the group's FOIA request in November, citing rules governing open law enforcement proceedings and privacy laws. The agencies held back the records in their entirety. The request included witness statements, investigation reports and memoranda, among other documents.

CREW says it appealed the decision, but that DoJ "has failed to issue a decision on plaintiff's appeal within the statutory time limit and plaintiff has exhausted the applicable administrative remedies with respect to its FOIA request to the FBI."

Even though DeLay was convicted in Texas, Sloan said the public deserves to know why the federal government did not bring charges.

“The DeLay case is just one in a string of troubling instances where the Department of Justice has declined to prosecute blatantly corrupt politicians,” Sloan said in a statement. “The department doesn’t even want the public to know why it didn’t prosecute. If Rep. DeLay’s actions really were not criminal, shouldn’t DoJ be happy to turn over its records and prove that? Why all the secrecy?” 

DeLay has vehemently denied committing any crimes. He called the DoJ probe "weak" last August.

"I always knew this day would come, my only hope that it would have come much sooner than the six years [it has taken]," he said at the time.