Exclusive — Sharyl Attkisson on DOJ Lawsuit: ‘No Outrage About the Intrusion’ from Media


Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson announced on Monday she is planning to sue the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal service for allegedly hacking into her computers. On Tuesday, Breitbart News asked her to explain the different parts of the lawsuit and where she sees this going over the next several months. She explained why she and her attorney are going forward with what will surely be a long and difficult process. We also talked about some criticism she received yesterday after the announcement. [Note: The interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Breitbart News: Tell me about the lawsuit. There are several parts to this thing. The first part is an administrative claim against the DOJ and the U.S. Postal Service?

Sharyl Attkisson: Yes, I’ll try to explain it the way my attorney explained it to me. The first claim is an administrative claim alleging illegal wire tapping. And it’s my understanding that because the government generally has sovereign immunity, one cannot sue the government unless it goes first through an administrative process. You have to file a claim, you have to state an amount of monetary damages and you have to give the government the chance to deny or admit the claim. And if, after a period of time — I don’t know if it’s three months or six months, the government denies the charges or doesn’t answer then you have a right to file a lawsuit. The second thing we’ve done is file an actual lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, alleging constitutional violations. That is not required to go through an administrative process first.

BN: So the administrative claim, is that the one that has a $35 million tag associated with it?

Attkisson: That’s right. According to my attorney, they make you, as part of the process, come up with an amount because the government needs the opportunity to settle the claim if they would like to admit the charges. We didn’t have a monetary amount, that’s usually left up to the court and to the jury, but because it’s a required part of the process my attorney did research on awards made in cases in which similar allegations are founded and he picked the middle ground and that was the amount.

BN: So if the administrative claim is denied or ignored, then you’ll move forward with a second set of lawsuits?

Attkisson: I guess we’ll decide at that time, but, yes, it’s my understanding that if they deny or ignore it there will be a lawsuit filed.

BN: You’re going after the DOJ because you’re interested in an investigation that was opened involving you?

Attkisson: That’s actually not why. People are confusing two different things, which I understand. I filed separate FOIA lawsuits some time ago, including against the FBI, for material in my file. They started a case listing me as the victim but never told me about it or interviewed me. So, I wanted to see what was in that case, plus some other material which they wouldn’t turn over even though I’m entitled to it. There are lawsuits already pending, but those are FOIA lawsuits. It’s completely separate. This is just seeking information of all kinds. We will likely depose people to find out who knows about the information we’ve gathered. We’ve got the report that, according to my attorney and the forensic experts, led us to file specifically against Department of Justice and Postal Service.

BN: Why the postal service?

Attkisson: The FBI often works in close conjunction with the postal service on computer cases, and there’s evidence implicating illegal or unauthorized connection into my system from a postal computer that’s not online or accessible by anybody in the public… A set of IP addresses implicate the post office in some of this or at least the use of their computer systems.

BN: Now, with regard to the separate lawsuit for violation of constitutional rights, what exactly are you suing for? What would be the remedy?

Attkisson: There are criminal implications to some of the allegations, but my attorney explained to me it would be up to the Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against itself. We don’t think that’s going to happen. So the only remedy we have is probably the civil aspect, which would be financial, monetary damages. And if there’s no monetary damages listed in the lawsuit, that would be because they don’t require it up front as they did for the administrative claim. Just from our viewpoint, and I’ve discussed this with at length with my attorney, our goal is public awareness, getting some answers, getting at the truth and making it a little harder for this to happen to somebody else in the future.

BN: Let me ask you about that public awareness. One particular critic yesterday went after you by suggesting this lawsuit was grandstanding. My thought was that we seemed to have skipped over a step. Critics went from saying your allegations weren’t credible to saying that you’re grandstanding by filing suit based on the evidence for those allegations. We seem to have skipped right over the step where we admit the allegations appear credible.

Attkisson:: Well, he’s allowed to say anything silly he wants to based upon absolutely no real information if he wants to. I think he’s still upset that I called out Politico when they wrote an unfair and misleading article about a party for the Stonewalled book, in which they mischaracterized it as a giant conservative affair at which praise was lavished on my by Darrell Issa and I was surrounded by Fox News commentators.

BN: I’m familiar with the story.

Attkisson: It’s not at all a fair characterization of what happened at the party, and I followed it up and mentioned some of the other guests who were there — the Obama administration people, colleagues from CBS News, public interest groups, whistleblowers, others who also spoke of my reporting who were lifelong liberals who were not mentioned in the article. So when I wrote up that factual account, Dylan [Byers of Politico] started kind of harassing me by Twitter and by personal email. He said something along the lines of, I’d be sorry if I didn’t quit putting out that article about what really happened at the book party… He seems to be taking it very personally, almost as if I were suing him, and I can’t figure out why that is.

BN: I contacted him yesterday before I wrote about this and he didn’t respond. I told him I’ve defended him when I thought he was being attacked unfairly so it’s not as if I have a personal issue with him.

Attkisson: He defended me in the past, and I like Dylan, so I’m not… I really don’t know what’s caused him to take this on as sort of this angry cause where he’s inserting himself. Someone forwarded me a tweet yesterday where he said something like if you think the government intruded on your computers this is not the way to go about it. And I’m thinking, what does he know about it? He didn’t ask me one question about what I’d done prior to the lawsuit, which is a lot. This was done by the way behind the scenes with no publicity at the time. Congressional inquiries, other inquiries, me filing a complaint with the inspector general, me FOIAing the FBI–none of that was reported. I didn’t discuss it with anybody publicly. He didn’t even ask me about it and then he just tweets out this sort of unfair comment and doesn’t say what he think the right course would be. I don’t know what you do if the government won’t tell you what happened or provide facts and after over a year and a half of trying to get answers you don’t take advantage of the legal system? I don’t know what else he thinks should be done and he didn’t elaborate. If you’re going to say this isn’t the right way to do it I’d sure like to hear what his advice is, what I should have done.

I also just think the whole dynamic I find very strange, to keep all of the skepticism on anything I or my experts say and none of it on those, whoever they may be, who actually did the intrusion. There’s no outrage about the intrusion. You don’t see these same reporters saying, how could this happen in America? Instead, they say: how dare you say these things happened to you. It’s the craziest dynamic really.

BN: You went on MSNBC a few weeks ago. Chris Hayes, I thought, did a pretty fair interview.

Attkisson: He operated on some of the talking points from Media Matters, but that was fine. He let me answer all the questions and he didn’t talk over me and interrupt. And I felt like I answered them as fully as I could. So, I had no complaints about that interview at all.

BN: Before we wrap up, is there anything else you can tell me about the lawsuit?

Attkisson: I know my attorney spoke to one reporter and the reporter asked well, how are you getting paid? And he said I’m doing this on a contingency. Then the reporter said, you must think then that you’re going to win. And he said, I would do this regardless because this is such an important case. And then the reporter asked what’s your political affiliation? And he said, I’m a Democrat and I voted for Bill Clinton and I voted for Obama and I’m going to vote for Hillary but this is way more important than all of those things. And he said, based on the evidence he’d seen, this is the worst abuse that the government has done to a citizen in the 30 years he’s been practicing law. And he said he would take the case if he wasn’t paid at all to do it.

BN: Obviously, he’s seen all the documents.

Attkisson: Yeah. He’s the one that’s gathering everything… It’s going directly from the forensic experts to him and then to me.

BN: And he clearly believes this happened.

Attkisson: There’s no doubt in his mind. It may be an uphill battle but he said, and I agree with him, what we’re trying to do is just not go away quietly and let this happen to other people without it being challenged and answered to some degree.


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