Judicial Watch • Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Detailing Secret Department of Justice Transparency Workshop

Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Detailing Secret Department of Justice Transparency Workshop

Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Detailing Secret Department of Justice Transparency Workshop

OCTOBER 18, 2011

Deputy Associate White House Counsel: “please don’t have them reach out to any reporters before I can clear it w/ wh [White House] press.”

Contact Information:
Press Office 202-646-5172, ext 305

Washington, DC — October 18, 2011

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents detailing the Obama White House decision to close to reporters a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) training workshop conducted by the Office of Information Policy (OIP) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Judicial Watch obtained the documents from the OIP in response to a FOIA request filed on December 7, 2009, the same day the workshop was held.
The documents consist of a series of emails between White House staff and the Director of the OIP, and include the following statements:

  • “I am going to touch base with my public affairs office re your suggestion to get their reaction. I, personally don’t object as my message is the same whether the event is open or not. Our concern had been solely with the inhibiting effect it would have on the gov’t ’ees [employees] who might not speak freely if press are there.” — Melanie Pustay, OIP Director, to Blake Roberts, Deputy Associate White House counsel, December 6, 2009.
  • “Ok – please don’t have them reach out to any reporters before I clear w/ wh [White House] press.” — Blake Roberts to Melanie Pustay, December 6, 2009.
  • “After talking with… ben labolt [then-Assistant White House Press Secretary], the decision is that the training will be closed to the press.” — Gina Talamona, Press Release Deputy Director for the DOJ to Melanie Pustay and Brian Hauck, Counsel to the Associate Attorney General, December 7, 2009.
  • “I think you have the right to give closed training when you want it.” — Brian Hauck to Melanie Pustay and Gina Talamona.

The documents also include a statement by OIP Director Melanie Pustay regarding previous FOIA workshops: “So far I have always held parallel sessions, one for agency ‘ees [employees] and then one that is open.”The training conference, held on December 7, 2009, was jointly hosted by the OIP and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) as a private workshop to provide tips to FOIA public liaison staff members on communicating, negotiating, and resolving disputes with individuals and organizations submitting FOIA requests.The fact the Obama administration chose to close the transparency workshop to the public led to criticism that the president was reneging on his promises of openness and transparency. On his first full day in office Barack Obama promised to “usher in a new era of open government” and directed agencies to administer the FOIA “with a clear presumption: in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” President Obama further instructed agencies that information should not be withheld merely because “public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”“There is a scandalously wide gap between Barack Obama’s rhetoric on transparency and the secretive policies of his administration,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “These documents suggest that it is the Obama White House that is directly responsible for this unprecedented lack of transparency. Only in Washington would political appointees think it appropriate to keep secret a government workshop on transparency. And only in Washington would a politician promote his efforts on transparency while simultaneously taking steps to keep the American people in the dark about their government.”

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