Watchdog group sues Justice Department for documents over national emergency declaration

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) Friday for failing to provide documents the watchdog group requested regarding the Trump administration declaring a national emergency. 

CREW asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order the DOJ to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it submitted to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The request was for documents the DOJ has written that discuss President Trump's ability to invoke national emergency powers to build his border wall. 

"Americans deserve to know the true basis for President Trump's unprecedented decision to enact emergency powers to pay for a border wall," CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. "We're suing because the government has so far failed to produce the requested documents or provide an explanation for their delay." 

"The Justice Department's inadequate response raises major questions about whether even the president's own administration believes there is a legal basis for him to bypass the constitutional authority granted to Congress to appropriate funds." 

CREW had initially submitted its FOIA request on Jan. 10 after Trump initially threatened to declare a national emergency to obtain additional border wall funds if Congress could not come to an agreement that met his funding demands.

In its request, CREW asked for an expedited review based on "significant media interest in the matter, and the urgency that the public be assured of the government's integrity in addressing the situation," according to its statement. The OLC denied the request for expedition on Feb. 12.

Trump officially declared a national emergency Friday to beef up funding for a barrier on the southern border. The White House said Friday it has identified up to $8.1 billion, including over $6 billion from the Pentagon, that will be available to fund the border wall now that the emergency is declared.

Democrats swiftly rebuked the move as an unnecessary overstep.

"This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.