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Lawsuit Claims the State Department Engaged in Illegal ‘Shadow Diplomacy’ in Ukraine


The State Department allegedly engaged in “shadow diplomacy,” using back-channels to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens in violation of federal record-keeping laws, according to a new lawsuit filed Tuesday in the District of Columbia.

The complaint, which seeks to force the State Department to preserve any records relating to diplomatic communications with Ukraine, was filed by government watchdog groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the National Security Archive (NSA), and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

“The conduct of Secretary [Mike] Pompeo and the State Department, however, conflicts directly with their obligations under the [Federal Records Act],” the lawsuit stated. “For example, at the direction of President [Donald] Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, State Department officials including Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, and with the knowledge of Secretary Pompeo, have been conducting foreign policy in Ukraine using a secret and irregular channel that bypasses State Department record-keeping systems and requirements.”

“State Department officials charged with carrying out our foreign policy should not be left in the dark about shadow diplomacy carried out through a secret, alternative channel,” the complaint continued. “Creating records of U.S. foreign policy is essential to ensure that the critical checks and balances built into our system function as the founders intended, and that the public, private researchers, and historians have access to the full documentary history of this administration.”

In support of their claims, the watchdog groups specifically point to encrypted messages between Volker and the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor which were only revealed after Congress issued a subpoena for the communications.

“These text messages further evidence the irregular or shadow diplomacy channel that was used to, among other things, place pressure on Ukraine ‘to deliver on the President’s demand for Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations,’” the complaint read.

The complaint also claimed that if the Court does not intervene, a large cache of records pertaining to the administration’s foreign diplomacy could be lost forever.

“The failure of Secretary Pompeo and State Department officials to create and preserve records of their conversations and meetings with certain foreign leaders and of their diplomatic efforts conducted through a secret, irregular channel outside of the agency’s recordkeeping system have deprived and will continue to deprive the Plaintiffs of access to the documentary history of this administration,” the lawsuit stated. “In the process, Plaintiffs and other members of the American public will lose vital information and insight into State Department policies and decision making, which are critical to interpret and prevent illegal or unwise government action.”

NSA CREW Complaint by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.