Two investigative journalists are suing the FBI after the government failed to respond on time to a pair of Freedom of Information Act requests filed for details on the death of reporter Michael Hastings.
Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro filed a joint suit on Friday after the Federal Bureau of Investigation neglected to respond to their FOIA requests within the 20-working day period required by law.
Leopold and Shapiro both sent FOIA requests to the FBI following Hastings’ untimely death last month, and are now taking legal action in an attempt to expedite pleas that have so far been ignored by the bureau.
Hastings, 33, died last month in Los Angeles, California after his Mercedes C250 Coupé crashed at a high rate of speed in the early morning hours of June 18. Hastings was widely-respected for his hard-hitting brand of national security reporting with outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Buzzfeed.com, and has been credited with causing the resignation of Stanley McChrystal, the four-star general who headed NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan until a Hastings-penned expose in 2010 embarrassed him to the point of abandoning that role.
According to a friend, Hastings warned his colleagues over email just hours before his death that he was working on a big story and that the FBI would likely be investigating his associates.
“It alarmed me very much,” Staff Sgt. Joseph Biggs, a friend of Hastings, said of the email he received last month. “I just said it doesn’t seem like him. I don’t know, I just had this gut feeling and it just really bothered me,” he told KTLA News.
The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks also claimed that Hastings
made contact with an attorney for the group the night before his
fatal car-crash, furthering speculation that he sought protection
from a potential government investigation.
Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2013
But now more than one month after Hastings passed away, little remains known about the night of the accident or what kind of investigation, if any, occurred in the days and weeks before the crash, which only further fueled the flames of conspiracy theories that developed in the wake of the accident. The FBI has formally denounced reports that it was involved in a probe focusing on Hastings, but Leopold and Shapiro still insist the government handle the FOIA request, which it was obligated to address after the 20-day mark passed earlier this month.
In a statement published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Leopold and Shapiro say they’ve retained attorney Jeffrey Light, who in turn filed the motion for summary judgment seeking expedited processing of the federal complaint last week.
"By suing the FBI for failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, [we] hope to obtain records pertaining both to the unusual circumstances of Michael Hastings's death and to the broader issue of FBI surveillance of journalists and other critics of American national security policy," Shapiro said.
“Perhaps the FBI doesn't have any records on Hastings,” wrote Leopold. “Regardless, I think Hastings would appreciate that Shapiro and I are trying to find out whether that is truly the case.”