MAY 07, 2004
Judicial Watch Seeking Communications From Justice Department
Washington, DC, May 7, 2004 – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, has won a significant legal victory in its efforts to obtain documents related to the “eleventh-hour” pardons granted by President Clinton. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today that the Bush administration cannot expand “presidential communications privilege” to withhold internal Justice Department documents sought by Judicial Watch.
During his last days in the White House, Mr. Clinton approved 177 controversial pardons, including one for fugitive financier Marc Rich. Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Justice Department sought documents related to the pardons. Some of the pardons have been, and reportedly continue to be, the subject of criminal investigations. The Bush administration, however, has fought release of the Clinton pardon documents, with the Justice Department withholding more than 4,300 pages related to the pardons.
In ruling against the Bush administration, the Court of Appeals said that extending the presidential communications privilege to internal Justice Department documents “would be both contrary to executive privilege precedent and considerably undermine the purposes of FOIA to foster openness and accountability in government.” Such an extension, added the court, “would have far-reaching implications for the entire executive branch that would seriously impede the operation and scope of FOIA.”
“Judicial Watch is pleased that the Court of Appeals struck down the Bush administration’s unprecedented presidential privilege power play, which the White House employed in an effort to cover up a scandal of the Clinton administration,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It’s obvious that the administration has taken this extreme position to protect not only Clinton’s secrets but its own, including the names and level of involvement of energy company officials who participated in Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force. We’re pleased that the Bush administration’s attempt to eviscerate the public’s right to know has once again been turned back by the courts.”