Harris, colleagues seek Ukraine info via public records law

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Kamala Harris

In this Oct. 15, 2019, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks in a Democratic presidential primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Harris and two of her Democratic Senate colleagues are trying to force the Trump administration to release documents related to the Ukraine investigation through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Harris, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island will file an information request Wednesday, Oct. 23 with the Department of Justice. It seeks documents related to Ukraine, China and justice department investigations into President Donald Trump’s political rivals. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris and two of her Democratic Senate colleagues are trying to force the Trump administration to release documents related to Ukraine and potential investigations into the president’s domestic political rivals through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Harris, of California, will join Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, in filing a request Wednesday with the Department of Justice seeking documents related to Ukraine, China and various investigations into companies associated with Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The request comes as the U.S. House of Representatives seeks its own information via its impeachment inquiry into Trump. The Trump administration routinely ignores requests from Congress for documents and witnesses, including from Democrats in the House who have subpoena power.

The three senators, all members of the Judiciary Committee, say they are turning to the public records law because of the Republican administration’s resistance to sharing information.

But requests via the Freedom of Information Act can take months or even years to fulfill, meaning it’s unlikely the senators will get documents soon, said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive and an expert in the Freedom of Information Act. He said Congress has a history of using the law to try to pry loose documents from the executive branch. The law also is frequently used by journalists.

Harris, a former California prosecutor, has achieved viral attention for her past questioning of Attorney General William Barr. As she tries to rise from the middle of the 2020 presidential pack to the top tier, the impeachment inquiry could offer her a fresh opportunity to garner attention.

She and four other senators seeking the Democratic nomination could be pulled away from the campaign trail if impeachment reaches a Senate trial. The others are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The information request seeks communications to, from or with officials in the attorney general’s office that include roughly 75 words or phrases, such as Giuliani, the last name of the president’s personal attorney; Bill Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who gave closed-door testimony to a House committee Tuesday; and Fraud Guarantee, the name of a company run by Giuliani associates who have been arrested on campaign finance violations.

The senators want documents showing communications between the attorney general’s office and China or Ukraine regarding Trump’s political rivals or any requests to investigate companies associated with Hunter Biden.

The House impeachment probe was sparked by a whistleblower’s complaint about a July phone call in which Trump told Ukraine’s president he wanted “a favor.” The White House later acknowledged in a rough transcript of the conversation that the favor was Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate the Democratic National Committee’s email hack in 2016 as well as the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, tied to Biden’s family.

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