Court Battles

Journalist sues Congress for Jan. 6 surveillance footage, other records

Rioters outside of the U.S. Capitol building
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A freelance journalist is suing Congress for footage and other records pertaining to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, challenging the legislative branch’s lack of legal transparency requirements.

Shawn Musgrave filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., federal district court on Wednesday asking a judge to recognize a “common law right of access” to congressional records, which are exempt from public records laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

“The result of FOIA inapplicability, in combination with almost nothing requiring further transparency to the public from these offices, has roundly led to low transparency and high secrecy,” the complaint reads. “This lack of transparency has become even more apparent in the face of increased public interest in congressional security in the wake of 6 January.

“However, these offices are subject to the common law right of access to public records, as all three branches of government are subject to that right.”

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Capitol Police, the House Sergeant at Arms and the secretary of the Senate. None of those offices were immediately able to offer comment to The Hill.

Musgrave is seeking surveillance footage of the riot and records about the Capitol’s security measures, arguing that “increased USCP transparency generally would have been helpful in preventing and/or understanding 6 January and is likely to be important in preventing similar attacks from happening in the future.”

Musgrave also filed a similar lawsuit on Wednesday against the Senate Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), seeking to make public the panel’s full torture report, which has been available only in a highly redacted version since its release in 2014.

It’s unclear whether Musgrave will be able to convince federal judges that the legislative branch has an implied legal obligation to disclose the materials in either case. But if he’s successful, it could upend the lack of transparency surrounding Congress and its voluminous nonpublic records.

— Updated 6:52 p.m.

Tags Capitol attack Capitol riot FOIA Jan. 6 footage Mark Warner

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