The Washington Free Beacon has been granted expedition on Russ Feingold’s correspondence during his time at the State Department after an initial denial and following an appeal.
Feingold, the former Democratic senator who is seeking to regain his old seat in Wisconsin, has been accused of violating federal law by discussing his intent to run against Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) while serving as a special envoy at the State Department between 2013 and 2015. The Hatch Act prohibits government officials from engaging in partisan politics.
The Free Beacon filed a Freedom of Information Act request on September 12 seeking any and all correspondence between Feingold and Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, along with Sens. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), and their offices. The Free Beacon also sought email correspondence between Feingold and his long-time aides Mary Irvine and Cole Leystra.
The State Department granted the request but denied expedited processing, claiming a "compelling need" had not been established. Following an appeal, the State Department granted expedition. It is not yet known when the documents will be released, although the Free Beacon argued in its appeal that Wisconsin voters have a right to know whether Feingold violated the Hatch Act before the November elections.
The State Department announced in early September that it would not release documents from a separate but similar FOIA request filed 21 months ago until one month after the election.
The former senator has denied discussing his intention to run for office while at the State Department. In an interview on Sept. 9, Feingold claimed that he knew the rules and did not violate them.
Days later, Feingold said that he began thinking about running again in 2014.
"At that time I started thinking that maybe this is something I might want to do," he said. "But I knew I couldn’t do anything in really pursuing that until I left the State Department. So when people would say to me, ‘what are you going to do, are you going to run,’ I’d say, ‘look, I need to leave the State Department in order to do that,’ and that’s what I did."
"In March of 2015, I left and I started talking to people," Feingold added. "I had to make sure people wanted me to run. It wasn’t enough that I was thinking about doing it. So I followed the law completely, and frankly, this is a completely false attack by somebody who’s so afraid of losing his position as a politician that he’s just making stuff up. And it’s sad."
Reports from last year contradict Feingold’s claim that he waited until he left the State Department to discuss his political ambitions.
The Hill reported that Tester had spoken to Feingold about a potential challenge against Johnson in January 2015 while Feingold was still serving as a special envoy.
The Huffington Post reported that Feingold had spoken to Baldwin, Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D.), and others about a possible run while still at the State Department.
Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
Published under: 2016 Election , Russ Feingold