Case Number: 5:22-mc-00111
Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
Clients: Associated Press, Gannett Co., Inc., Gray Media Group, Inc., Hearst Corporation, Texas Tribune
Application to Unseal Court Records Filed: Aug. 16, 2022
Background: On Jan. 19, 2022, the FBI executed search warrants at U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home and campaign office as part of a federal investigation. It’s unclear whether the Democratic congressman from Texas is a target of the investigation — his attorney denies that he is — but news outlets have reported that the searches were prompted by a federal grand jury probe related to the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Cuellar has been an advocate for the nation and has served as the co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.
The searches of the congressman’s home and campaign office, which were the subject of enormous public attention and interest, happened two months before his highly competitive primary election, which he narrowly won. The general election is Nov. 8, 2022.
On behalf of several news organizations, Reporters Committee attorneys asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to unseal court records related to the federal government’s search, including search warrant applications, supporting affidavits and the search warrants themselves. Among other things, the news outlets argue that the public has a presumptive right of access to the records at issue, and that the public has a powerful interest in understanding potential misconduct by a public official and the steps taken to investigate it.
Quote: “Reporters Committee attorneys are proud to represent the news organizations urging the district court to unseal these search warrant records. Texas voters have a right to know — before they go to the polls — why federal investigators searched the home and campaign office of one of their congressmen,” said Katie Townsend, deputy executive director and legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “And, more broadly, the public has a right to know why the Justice Department conducted this search so close to an election.”
Related: Reporters Committee attorneys are currently representing the Los Angeles Times in its effort to unseal judicial records related to a search warrant that the FBI served on Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) concerning Burr’s stock trades before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Updates: On Sept. 1, 2023, a magistrate judge largely rejected the media coalition’s bid to unseal the judicial records related to the raid on Cuellar’s home and office, citing the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation.
2022-08-16: Application to unseal court records
2022-09-12: Motion to unseal government’s response
2022-11-28: Order and opinion
2023-09-01: Opinion and order