Ruling will lead to disclosure of information about documents withheld from House under Obama executive privilege claim that led to Holder contempt of Congress finding
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on July 18, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) must turn over to the organization a “Vaughn index” of all requested Operation Fast and Furious materials from the June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent September 2012 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-01510)). Judicial Watch sought all of the documents the Obama White House was withholding from the House of Representatives under executive privilege claims.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates lifted a lengthy 16-month delay of this open records lawsuit. This order forces the Obama DOJ, for the first time and by October 1, 2014, to provide a detailed listing of all documents that it has withheld from Congress and the American people for years about the deadly Fast and Furious gun running scandal. The ruling can be found here.
The DOJ opposed the Judicial Watch action, claiming it would interfere with the department’s continuing litigation with the House Oversight Committee concerning these Fast and Furious documents subpoenaed in October 2011. In September 2012, Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents. In the July 2014 opinion overruling the Obama Justice Department’s request for an almost indefinite hold on Judicial Watch’s legal right obtains this information under the Freedom of Information Act Bates said:
In the [February 15, 2013] order granting the stay, this court explicitly noted that the DOJ ‘does not seek, and the court will not award, an indefinite stay pending ultimate resolution of the House Committee litigation,’ and that ‘the benefits of delaying this case might well [become] too attenuated to justify any further delay” …
Because many of the issues to be resolved in this case do not overlap with the House committee, and because resolving those issues will not risk upsetting the delicate balance of powers in subpoena disputes between the political branches, the Court will require DOJ to produce a Vaughn index here.
In fact, the court suggested that disclosing information to Judicial Watch might actually resolve the legal dispute now before Judge Amy Berman Jackson between the Obama administration and Congress:
True, nothing in the subpoena enforcement context of House Committee would require DOJ to produce a particularized description of the withheld documents…But this is a FOIA case, and since 1973, when Vaughn was decided, courts in this circuit have required agencies to justify their FOIA withholdings on a particularized basis. And doing so here will not prematurely expose or resolve the executive privilege issues ahead of Judge Jackson and the political branches; it will merely permit the parties and this Court to cull from the dispute any documents as to which a valid, non-executive privilege reason for withholding exists, thereby narrowing or perhaps even resolving the case. To the extent DOJ argues that the mere production of the Vaughn index—not involving the release of any documents in dispute—would alter the historical balance of powers between the branches, any unbalancing would result from FOIA itself, a law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, and which this Court cannot ignore forever.
Judge Bates also noted no court has ever “expressly recognized” President Obama’s executive privilege claims that his administration is using to keep these documents secret from Congress and the American people.
The DOJ claims, in addition to other Exemption 5 rationales, at least two distinct forms of executive privilege to justify withholding documents: a “deliberative process” privilege of constitutional dimensions and a “congressional response work-product” privilege. See: Mem.in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., House Committee, No. 12-1332 [ECF No. 63] (“House Committee Def.’s Mot.”) at 21-27, 27-30. It appears that neither form has been expressly recognized by any court Id (citing Senate Select Comm. on Pres. Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725 (D.C. Cir. 1974)).
A Vaughn index must: (1) identify each document withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.” In ordering the DOJ to provide Judicial Watch the Vaughn index, the Court ruled, “In this circuit, when an agency is withholding documents under exemption claims, courts require that the agency provide a Vaughn index so that the FOIA requester – at a distinct informational disadvantage – may test the agency’s claims.”
Fast and Furious was a DOJ/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-running” operation in which the Obama administration reportedly allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels in hopes that they would end up at crime scenes, thereby advancing gun-control policies. Fast and Furious weapons have been implicated in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of other innocents in Mexico.
On June 20, 2012, President Obama asserted executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents the House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed eight months earlier. Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request two days later. When the DOJ denied that request, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on September 12, 2012. On February 15, 2013, Judge Bates stayed the case, in part to allow ongoing settlement discussions between the DOJ and the House Committee to continue. Judge Bates’ order lifted the stay after a lengthy July 18 hearing. Generally speaking, the documents at issue are about how and if the Obama administration misled Congress about the Fast and Furious matter.
“Once again, Judicial Watch has beat Congress to the punch in getting key information about another Obama scandal – this time, the Fast and Furious outrage,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “A federal court has ordered the Obama administration to produce information that could, for the first time, provide specific details who in the administration is responsible for Fast and Furious lies to Congress and the American people. This is a battle that put Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, saw Nixonian assertions of executive privilege by Barack Obama, and a hapless Congress in face of all this lawlessness. Finally, we may get some accountability for Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the countless others murdered as a result of the insanely reckless Obama administration program.”
The Judicial Watch lawsuit for Oversight Committee documents is one of several FOIA lawsuits Judicial Watch has filed in its effort to obtain information concerning the Fast and Furious scandal:
- On October 11, 2011, Judicial Watch sued the DOJ and the ATF to obtain all Fast and Furious records submitted to the House Committee on Oversight.
- On June 6, 2012, Judicial Watch sued the ATF seeking access to records detailing communications between ATF officials and Kevin O’Reilly, former Obama White House Director of North American Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.
- On September 5, 2013, Judicial Watch sued the DOJ seeking access to all records of communications between DOJ and the Oversight Committee relating to settlement discussions in the Committee’s 2012 contempt of Congress lawsuit against Holder. The contempt citation stemmed from Holder’s refusal to turn over documents to Congress related to the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal.
- On May 28, 2014, Judicial Watch sued the DOJ on behalf of ATF Special Agent John Dodson, who blew the whistle on Operation Fast and Furious and was then subjected to an alleged smear campaign designed to destroy his reputation.
On June 17, 2014, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking the number of hours DOJ Attorney Barbara Bosserman expended in the investigation of the IRS targeting of conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections cycles.
Bosserman was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to oversee the DOJ/ FBI investigation despite her being a substantial contributor to the political campaigns of Barack Obama and to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The appointment is a clear conflict of interest and brings up major doubts as to whether a serious DOJ investigation into the IRS scandal is being conducted at all.
The FOIA lawsuit filed pursuant to a February 25, 2014, FOIA request seeks the following:
All Justice Department records from the Interactive Case Management System [a web-based system for storing and accessing information about contacts, calendars, cases, documents, time tracking, and billing, etc.] detailing the number of hours DOJ Attorney Barbara Bosserman expended on the investigation of the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status in the 2010 and 2012 elections cycles.
Judicial Watch, Inc. on April 24, 2012 launched an investigation into the Trayvon Martin case based on reports that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had sent a secret team of “peacekeepers” to Sanflord, Florida, where Martin was shot on February 26, 2012 after wandering in a gated community after dark. George Zimmerman, a resident of the community and its neighborhood watch captain, is currently on trial for Martin’s death though he maintains he acted in self-defense.
Records obtained by Judicial Watch in response to local, state and federal public records requests show that the so-called peacekeepers are part of a large and growing division within DOJ called the Community Relations Service (CRS). Though CRS purports to spot and quell racial tensions nationwide before they arise, the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show the group actively worked to foment unrest, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on travel and hotel rooms to train protestors throughout Florida. The peacekeepers also met with officials of the Republican National Convention, scheduled for several months later in Tampa, to warn them to expect protests in connection with Martin’s death.
- CRS employee spent $1,142.84 to travel to Sanford, Florida from March 25-28, 2012 “to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies”;
- CRS employee spent $751.60 to travel to Sanford, Florida from March 30-April 1, 2012 “to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31”;
- CRS employee spent $1,307.40 to travel to Sanford, Florida from April 3-12, 2012 “to provide technical assistance, conciliation, and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford”;
- CRS employee spent $672.24 to travel to Tampa, Florida from April 18-20, 2012 “to meet with RNC official related to possible protests and demonstrations during the RNC”
From a Florida Sunshine Law request filed on April 23, 2012, JW received thousands of pages of emails on April 27, 2012, in which was found an email by Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board Program Officer Amy Carswell from April 16, 2012: “Congratulations to our partners, Thomas Battles, Regional Director, and Mildred De Robles, Miami-Dade Coordinator and their co-workers at the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service for their outstanding and ongoing efforts to reduce tensions and build bridges of understanding and respect in Sanford, Florida.”
For additional background and reference:
April 17, 2012: Who are the Peacekeepers?
April 10, 2012: “Dream Defenders” block entrance to Sanford Police Dept.
March 31, 2012: Narrative of Martin-Zimmerman dispute
It’s not enough that illegal immigrants in the U.S. get driver’s licenses, taxpayer-subsidized college educations and backdoor amnesty from the president, now there’s a nationwide push for the right to practice law.
Only in America! A group called the DREAM Bar Association is lobbying every state in the union to grant law licenses to illegal aliens. The nonprofit got its name from a controversial federal bill called Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the country as kids. The measure also calls on states to provide discounted tuition for illegal immigrants at public colleges and universities.
But the right to practice law in the U.S. has always been a privilege that requires a special license—granted by states—that should not be compromised. After all, attorneys in this country are officers of the legal system and have special responsibility for the quality of justice. Allowing people who have violated the nation’s laws by their very presence in the country seems absurd to say the least.
Never the less, the DREAM Bar Association has picked up steam and support from the powerful open borders movement in its campaign to give illegal aliens law licenses. The Washington D.C. group boasts that it’s the first and only bar association representing “undocumented lawyers.” President Jose Magaña encourages all 50 states to pass legislation and promulgate rules to ensure that graduates of accredited laws schools are able to obtain a license and “fully utilize their legal education.” It’s a fundamental question of fairness, Magaña says.
His group has filed legal briefs in Florida and California, where state courts are considering cases involving illegal immigrants who graduated from law school but can’t obtain a license to practice. Florida’s Supreme Court heard its case last month involving Jose Godinez-Samperio, a Mexican illegal alien who came to the U.S. with his parents on visitors’ visas when he was 9 years old. He graduated from New College in Florida, earned a law degree from Florida State University and passed the state bar exam last year.
The California case centers on a Mexican man, Sergio Garcia, who for years went back and forth between Mexico and California. At 17, the family stayed in California for good and Garcia eventually graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. When California’s Supreme Court heard the case earlier this year, it sought guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ), which said an illegal immigrant should not be allowed to practice law in the state even though he passed the bar exam.
Judicial Watch Also Probes FBI Decision to Purge Training Curricula of Material Deemed ‘Offensive’ to Muslims
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-01183)) against the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking access to records detailing a February 2012 meeting between FBI Director Robert Mueller and Muslim organizations. Judicial Watch is also investigating the FBI’s subsequent controversial decision to purge the agency’s training curricula of material deemed “offensive” to Muslims.
On March 7, 2012, Judicial Watch submitted FOIA requests to the FBI and the DOJ seeking access to records concerning or relating to a February 8, 2012, meeting between FBI Director Robert Mueller and various Islamic organizations.
Judicial Watch seeks “any and all records setting criteria or guidelines for FBI curricula on Islam or records identifying potentially offensive material within the FBI curricula on Islam,” as well as any directives to withdraw FBI presentations and curricula on Islam. Judicial Watch also seeks records of communications between the Office of the Attorney General and several entities, including the Obama White House, the Executive Office of the President, and Muslim organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Council for American-Islamic Relations regarding the FBI’s curricula on Islam.
The FBI acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request on March 20, 2012, and was required to respond by May 1, 2012. The DOJ acknowledged receiving Judicial Watch’s FOIA request on March 14, 2012, and was required to respond by April 11, 2012. To date, neither agency has responded to Judicial Watch’s request in accordance with FOIA law.
FBI Director Robert Mueller reportedly met secretly on February 8, 2012, at FBI headquarters with a coalition of Islamist organizations, some with radical ties to terrorist organizations. For example, per The Washington Examiner, one group that reportedly met with Mueller – the Islamic Society of North America – “was tied to the terror groups Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in federal court documents.” The government named the Islamic Society of North America as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing lawsuit, along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the North American Islamic Trust.
During the February 8 meeting, Mueller reportedly assured the Islamic groups in attendance that the agency had ordered the removal of presentations and curricula on Islam from FBI offices around the country that were deemed “offensive.” As reported by NPR, overall, “The FBI has completed a review of offensive training material and has purged 876 pages and 392 presentations, according to a briefing provided to lawmakers.”
The material purge was reportedly initiated in response to a letter of complaint sent by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). However, other members of Congress, including Rep. Allen West (R-FL), object to allowing radical Muslim organizations the opportunity to dictate U.S. counterterrorism policy and want the material to be reinserted into the documents: “Now you have an environment of political correctness which precludes these agents from doing their proper job and due diligence to go after the perceived threat,” Congressman West said.
“There is no question that the country is less safe when we allow radical Muslim organizations to tell the FBI how to train its agents and do its job,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The FBI’s purge of so called offensive material is political correctness run amok and it puts the nation at risk. The Obama administration owes the American people a full accounting of how and why his terrible decision was made.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that on June 6, 2012 it filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-00922)) against the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain records related to the agency’s decision to block a section of South Carolina Act R54 that would require voters to present photo identification when voting.
Pursuant to FOIA requests filed with the DOJ on February 6, 2012, Judicial Watch seeks the following records:
Any and all records regarding, concerning or related to the Civil Rights Division’s denial of pre-clearance of Section 5 of South Carolina Act R54 (A27 H3003) pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c.;
Any and all records of communication regarding, concerning or related to South Carolina Act R54 (A27 H3003) between any official or employee of the Civil Rights Division and any other individual or entity.
The DOJ acknowledged receipt of the request on February 16, 2012. By law, a response was due no later than March 29, 2012. However, to date the DOJ has failed to respond.
In May 2011, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed R54 into law.
Under the Voting Rights Act (Section 5), some states, including South Carolina, must have changes to voting laws “pre-cleared” by the DOJ. On December 23, 2011, the Obama DOJ notified South Carolina that it was denying “preclearance” for Section 5 of the state’s election integrity law, claiming the provision would suppress minority voting. This was the first law of its type in 20 years to be denied “preclearance” by the DOJ.
On February 7, 2012, the State of South Carolina sued Attorney General Eric Holder to have a three-judge panel to declare R54 consistent with federal law (South Carolina v. Holder (No. 1:12-cv-0203))..
South Carolina counters in its lawsuit, that the new voter ID measures “are not a bar to voting but a temporary inconvenience no greater than the inconvenience inherent in voting itself.” South Carolina also argues that its law is similar to a law passed by the State of Indiana that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of South Carolina filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on February 24, 2012.
“There is no doubt the Obama Justice Department is acting as a legal front for the Obama campaign and leftist special interest groups. South Carolina’s photo ID provision is a lawful attempt to ensure the integrity of every vote. But the Justice Department has no interest in stopping voter fraud because this would interfere with the effort to re-elect Barack Obama by hook or by crook. The secrecy we are fighting in court suggests that Holder’s agency has something to hide. The American people have a right to know how why the Obama administration has such a distaste for clean elections.”
As part of its 2012 Election Integrity Campaign, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on June 1, 2012, against the Obama DOJ to obtain records detailing the agency’s communications with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding Pennsylvania House Bill 934, commonly referred to as Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law. The ACLU and allied organizations have filed a lawsuit to prevent the law, signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on March 14, 2012, from taking effect before the November elections.
The Obama Justice Department and the mainstream media have conveniently failed to identify as illegal immigrants more than two dozen people arrested in a major drug-trafficking ring near the capital, but a conservative newspaper stepped up to the plate and revealed this important fact.
The sophisticated operation for years smuggled cocaine from Honduras to northern Virginia, which is considered part of the Washington Metropolitan area that surrounds the capital. Couriers smuggled large amounts of drugs by hiding them in shoes and decorative wooden frames, according to federal prosecutors. The feds also believe that members of the trafficking ring wired more than $1 million from the United States back to cocaine suppliers in Honduras.
In all, 28 people from a “tight network of Honduran immigrants” have been arrested, according to Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney that heads the DOJ’s Eastern District of Virginia office handling the case. His announcement, posted on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, goes into tremendous detail about the operation and mentions how the suspects distributed vast amounts of cocaine throughout Northern Virginia and the mid-Atlantic.
However, there is no mention that the criminal enterprise was run by illegal immigrants, not simply “Honduran immigrants,” which implies they lived in the U.S. legally. Local and national media followed the DOJ’s cover-up lead. One local news report simply reprinted the DOJ press release, which identifies the suspects by name. Maryland’s largest newspaper dedicated a two-paragraph brief to the story because three state “residents” were arrested but, again, no mention of any illegal immigrants being involved.
The area’s conservative newspaper, the Washington Examiner, was the only to contact federal immigration authorities to inquire about the status of the arrestees in this case. This is a relevant fact, considering the Obama Administration is granting backdoor amnesty to thousands of illegal aliens. The short piece quotes an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official confirming the agency had lodged detainers against all 28 defendants. The information came via electronic mail after an Examiner reporter took the time to do her job.
Mexico has issued the U.S. government what amounts to a diplomatic threat for exonerating a Border Patrol agent who shot an illegal immigrant near the Texas border nearly two years ago after being assaulted with rocks.
The shooting occurred in the summer of 2010 when the federal agent, Jesus Mesa, spotted a group of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande near El Paso. U.S. authorities say Mesa fatally shot a teen (Sergio Hernández-Guereca) traveling with the group in self-defense after the teen and his friends threw rocks at the agent.
Last year a Texas judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government but allowed a lawsuit against the agent to proceed. The Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent the last two years conducting a “comprehensive and thorough investigation into the shooting” in an effort to file federal criminal charges against the Border Patrol agent.
But a few days ago the DOJ conceded that there is “insufficient evidence” to pursue federal criminal charges against Mesa. “The U.S. government regrets the loss of life in this matter, and the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security devoted significant time and resources into conducting a thorough and complete investigation,” the DOJ says in a statement.
The lengthy probe was conducted by an army of federal officers from the FBI, Homeland Security Inspector General and top prosecutors from the DOJ’s bloated Civil Rights Division. They interviewed dozens of law enforcement and civilian witnesses and collected, analyzed and reviewed evidence from the scene of the shooting. This included civilian and surveillance video, police radio traffic, emergency recordings and volumes of Border Patrol agent training and use of force material.
Agent Mesa’s training, disciplinary records and personal history were also scrutinized. The team of experienced DOJ prosecutors examined the shooting as a possible violation of U.S. criminal and civil rights laws, but the incident did not meet the standard. Evidence indicated that the “agent’s actions constituted a reasonable use of force or would constitute an act of self-defense in response to the threat created by a group of smugglers hurling rocks at the agent…” the feds concluded.
They further determined that no federal civil rights charges could be pursued in this matter since applicable statutes require prosecutors to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. That means with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Again, after a thorough review, the experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents concluded that the evidence was insufficient.
The decision has been met with anger among Mexican government officials who have threatened to launch an international investigation. The Spanish-language news media presented the story as the exoneration of the American agent who assassinated a Mexican youth. In a diplomatic note from its secretary of foreign relations, Mexico’s government chastised the DOJ’s decision not to criminally charge the Border Patrol agent.
Mexico has also threatened to conduct its own investigation into the DOJ’s handling of the case and has warned the U.S. to assure that Mexicans’ fundamental rights are being respected. The teen’s family, which lives in Mexico, has sued Agent Mesa despite the DOJ’s decision not to criminally charge him.