Debevoise Wins Another Significant FOIA Ruling in Khashoggi Case on Behalf of Open Society Justice Initiative

8 December 2020

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP successfully argued before the District Court of the Southern District of New York on behalf of the Open Society Justice Initiative (“OSJI”), to compel the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (“ODNI”) to disclose the existence of two critical records related to the killing of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

In his December 8 ruling, Judge Engelmayer gave the CIA and ODNI two weeks to produce an official declaration acknowledging the existence of a tape of Khashoggi’s killing and of a CIA report on the matter. The agencies had previously refused to acknowledge the existence or possession of both the tape and the CIA report. They had argued that FOIA exemptions intended to protect the disclosure of classified information permit the Government to withhold any and all information regarding responsive records, including the fact that they exist, if the Government determines that disclosure would damage national security or foreign relations.

In his opinion, Judge Engelmayer held that the applicable exemption was waived by the Government through public acknowledgement of the existence of both the tape and CIA report by President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and other administration officials.

Read the court’s opinion here.

“The Trump administration has for years obfuscated what it knows about the circumstances and perpetrators of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.  The court’s order is a critical step towards transparency and accountability,” said Debevoise attorney Ashika Singh, who argued the motion on behalf of OSJI.

Debevoise has assisted OSJI in filing several Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests seeking U.S. Government records related to Khashoggi’s murder, as well as in OSJI’s subsequent challenges to the adequacy of the Government’s disclosures. This latest ruling is the outcome of cross-motions for summary judgment filed by OSJI against the CIA and ODNI, challenging the agencies’ refusal to disclose certain records relating to Khashoggi’s 2018 killing in Istanbul, Turkey.

Debevoise partner Catherine Amirfar, associates Ashika Singh, Matthew Forbes, Moeun ChaSebastian Dutz and Sidra Mahfooz, and law clerk Michael Pizzi are on the team representing OSJI.