Judicial Watch • Obama Administration Tells Federal Court Privacy Act Does Not Apply to White House

Obama Administration Tells Federal Court Privacy Act Does Not Apply to White House

Obama Administration Tells Federal Court Privacy Act Does Not Apply to White House

OCTOBER 29, 2009

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that the Obama administration argued in a recent court filing that the Privacy Act does not apply to the Executive Office of the President (EOP). This court filing came in a Judicial Watch lawsuit filed in 1996 against the Clinton White House related to a scandal known as “Filegate,” where the Clinton White House obtained and maintained the private FBI files of hundreds of former Reagan and Bush officials [Alexander v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Civil Action No. 96-2123/97-1288 (RCL)].

In the Obama administration’s “Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment,” filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on September 17, the Obama Justice Department stated the following: “The White House is not an agency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it necessarily follows that it is not an agency subject to the Privacy Act.” However, the Privacy Act specifically lists the “Executive Office of the President” as an agency subject to the Act’s provisions.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth had repeatedly rejected this same legal argument, most recently in 2008 when the court ruled against a government motion that would have dismissed the lawsuit: “…this court holds that under the Privacy Act, the word ‘agency’ includes the Executive Office of the President, just as the Privacy Act says.”

While the Obama administration continues to advance the legal and political argument that the White House and the FBI should not be held accountable for the Filegate scandal, former President Bill Clinton apparently disagrees. Clinton told historian Taylor Branch in preparation for a recently published book, “those files did not belong at The White House,” and that they “should have been isolated and returned immediately.” According to Branch, Clinton also said “[h]is administration should and would be held accountable.”

“What the Obama administration is effectively saying here is that if the White House decides to illegally compile FBI files and violate your privacy rights, tough luck,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is disturbing that the Obama administration has taken the legal position that the Privacy Act does not apply to the White House and the Clinton FBI files scandal was not a scandal. It is worrying to those of us concerned about the Obama White House’s collecting “fishy” emails and compiling an enemies list of new organizations, radio hosts, businesses, and industry associations to attack and smear. Is the Obama defense of the FBI files scandal less about that Clinton scandal and more about what his White House is up to now?”

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