Saturday, October 25

Team Obozo finally responds to FOIA lawsuit filed two years ago--claims executive privilege on 15,000 docs

Here we go again.

In June of 2012--over two years ago--the watchdog organization Judicial Watch made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Obama administration, asking for documents related to the scheme to sell military-grade guns to Mexican drug cartels.  Team Obama told 'em to fuck off, and invoked Executive Privilege for all documents and communications between Holder and Obama.

Most legal scholars viewed this claim as unlawful, since Holder had earlier testified to Congress that he had not discussed F&F with the president.  But since the defense of executive privilege is based on the president being able to withhold advice or counsel provided by executive-branch employees it's hard to reconcile these two claims.  

On June 28, 2012, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of congress over his refusal to turn over records subpoenaed by congress which might have proved that he lied to congress about the gun running operation.  It marked the first time in U.S. history that a sitting Attorney General was held in contempt of Congress.

A week before the contempt vote, to protect Holder from criminal prosecution and to try to get congress to scuttle the contempt vote, President Obama asserted executive privilege over the Fast and Furious records the House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed eight months earlier.

Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request two days later.  Holder’s Justice Department wouldn’t budge (or follow the law), so JW filed a FOIA lawsuit on September 12, 2012.

But Holder's "Justice" Department convinced U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates to stay JW's lawsuit, in part to allow the Justice department and the House Committee to continue "settlement negotiations."  Those negotiations dragged on for 16 months and accomplished nothing other than to run the clock.

Fed up with the endless stonewalling, JW renewed its request to the Court to allow the FOIA lawsuit to continue.  This past July Judge Bates ended the 16-month delay and ordered the Obama administration to produce a Vaughn index of the alleged “executive privilege” records by October 1.

The judge noted that no court has ever “expressly recognized” President Obama’s unprecedented executive privilege claims in the Fast and Furious matter.

Not willing to risk political damage by releasing damaging records before the mid-term elections, Justice Department lawyers asked the judge to give them an extra month, until November 3 (the day before Election Day!) to produce them. 

On September 23 Judge Bates rejected this gambit, but gave Justice until October 23rd to produce the requested index.  He also suggested that Holder--his nominal boss--didn't take the suit seriously.

Two days later Eric Holder announced his resignation.

Two days ago--October 23rd, 2014, i.e. two years after the lawsuit was filed--the Ogabe regime finally delivered, not the documents requested, but an index of 15,662 documents related to the FOIA request.  The index alone ran to 1307 pages, or about the size of the ghastly Obamacare act.

Team Obama refused to provide any of the actual documents on this index, claiming it was legally entitled to withhold every one of them--on the ground of executive privilege.

The index--called a Vaughn index--is required by law to identify each record withheld; to state the legal justification for the government's claim that the document is exempt from the FOI request; and to state why disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.  The Vaughn index arguably fails to provide all of this required information but does provide plenty of interesting information for a public kept in the dark for years about the Fast and Furious scandal.

Based on a preliminary review of the 1307-page index, Judicial Watch released some conclusions:
  • The index lists several emails showing Attorney General Holder’s direct involvement in crafting talking points, the timing of public disclosures, and handling congressional inquiries in the Fast and Furious operation.
  • Obama has claimed executive privilege for nearly 20 emails between Holder and his wife.
  • Numerous entries detail DOJ’s communications (including those of Eric Holder) concerning the White House about Fast and Furious.
The smoking gun here is the assertion of privilege for the emails between Holder and his wife--who is not a government employee.  It's hard to imagine how those emails can qualify for executive privilege.  By contrast, it's easy to see how Holder might have admitted something to his wife that would expose illegal acts or mere lies to congress by Holder or other administration agents.

Also, many of the documents in the index are publicly available such as letters from Congress, press clips, and typical agency communications.  It's hard to avoid the suspicion that the reason for including these public records in the index was to make it harder to find actual smoking guns.  Another strategy is that if "only" 20 or 30 documents out of 15,562 show lawbreaking by Team Ogabe, the friendly media will cite this "tiny fraction" as evidence that the incriminating documents were actually insignificant as a percentage of the entire mass of evidence.

The major takeaway from this is that Team Ogabe was able to successfully stonewall a valid lawsuit for two years, and clearly has no intention of complying with the Freedom of Information Act if doing so would hurt Democrats.

A nation of laws?  Not anymore.  Most transparent administration ever?  Utter bullshit.  But exactly what we've come to expect from Team Ogabe.

So I'm curious:  Had you heard about this before?  If so, how did you find out about it?

If not, do you think this story is newsworthy?

One reporter--one--had the balls to ask Ogabe's press secretary a pointed question about this bullshit.  You can guess what happened.  Here's that exchange:
Reporter: “The conservative group Judicial Watch has just put out a statement yesterday  saying that the president months ago invoked executive privilege on Fast & Furious included 20 e-mails between the Attorney General, his wife, and his mother. And I was wondering, did the Attorney General talk about this sensitive gun-running operation with his wife and his mother and that’s why you had to invoke executive privilege?”
Ogabe press sec: “Well, Ed, I refer you to the Department of Justice.”

Reporter: “It wasn’t Department of Justice privilege, it was executive privilege. It was invoked by the president, not the Attorney General.”
Press sec: “I can tell you that it’s the Department of Justice that can discuss those e-mails with you. What is clear is that this lawsuit that has been filed by Judicial Watch actually doesn’t have anything to do with the actual Fast & Furious operation. It has to do with e-mails and documents related to the operation. More than 7,500 pages of those documents have already been turned over to Congress, which obviously has thoroughly reviewed this situation. They’ve conducted countless interviews. the Inspector General has as well. This is something that has been thoroughly investigated.”
Reporter: “But if there was nothing sensitive in the e-mails that the Attorney General sent to his wife and mom, presumably they could have been turned over.”
Press sec: “Well I know that, again, 7,500 pages of documents were turned over both to the Inspector General as well as to Democrats and Republicans in Congress who were investigating this issue. So we have demonstrated a pretty clear commitment to legitimate oversight on this matter and others.”
Not only does the press secretary's response not answer the question the reporter asked ("Why did Obama invoke executive privilege over documents including communications between AG Eric Holder, and his wife and his mother?") but it is also breath-taking in its brazen falsity.

The Ogabe regime has made every effort to conceal, lie, stonewall and otherwise hide the truth.
Not only will "the most transparent administration ever” not tell Americans the truth, they're quite happy to stonewall a federal judge to continue to conceal a damaging truth.

The "Justice" department can't assert executive privilege.  Only the president can do that.  The reporter properly asked the secretary for the president's reasoning.  The press secretary told the reporter to ask Justice.  But as should be obvious, Justice can't assert the privilege.  In essence the press secretary refused to answer.

But for all the liberal reporters present, that "answer" was totally fine.

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