Judicial Watch • Obama’s Big Lie on Transparency

Obama’s Big Lie on Transparency

Obama’s Big Lie on Transparency

MARCH 05, 2010

March 5, 2010

From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Judicial Watch Asks Court to Force U.S. Secret Service to Release Obama's Hidden White House Visitor Logs

Who is visiting the Obama White House? This is the central question in Judicial Watch's ongoing legal battle with the Obama administration over the White House visitor logs. The law recognizes the American people's right to know who visits the White House and for what reason. President Obama disagrees, and his administration has been scraping and clawing to keep these records hidden. (So much for making openness and transparency the “touchstones” of his administration!)

On February 22, we took a key step forward in our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit over the logs by filing a “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” against the Secret Service asking the court to force the release of all White House visitor logs from January 20, 2009, to August, 10, 2009.

The Obama administration, for its part, continues to advance its ridiculous and bogus claim that the visitor logs “are not agency records subject to the FOIA.” But the Obama administration doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. As we noted in our original complaint filed on December 7, 2009, the administration's claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by the courts. In fact, it has been rejected by every court that has considered it.

Here's a quick excerpt from our court motion filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: “At issue here is whether Secret Service visitor logs are agency records subject to the Freedom of Information Act (‘FOIA’), 5 U.S.C. § 552. To date, every court that has reached this issue has concluded that the requested documents are agency records and must be processed in response to a properly submitted FOIA request. As no disputes of material fact exist as to the nature of the records, summary judgment as to this straightforward legal issue should be entered now.”

Noting court precedent, our lawyers detail how the White House visitor logs were “created by” the U.S. Secret Service and that they remain “under agency control.” Our brief also notes that the Secret Service had released White House visitor logs in response to previous FOIA requests from Judicial Watch and other parties, further demonstrating that these records are under the control of the Secret Service and subject to FOIA.

Of course, the Obama administration attempted to take the “high ground” in the debate by releasing a select number of visitor logs last year. But tens of thousands of other records continue to be withheld in defiance of FOIA law. Why release some and not all? Only when all visitor logs are released can the American people be assured that the Obama White House is being forthright about who is visiting the White House. Of course, as usual, we have been emphatic in expressing our view on this subject. And our enthusiasm has definitely caught the attention of the Obama White House.

Update readers may recall that, at the request of the White House, last October Judicial Watch staff visited with senior White House official Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government, to discuss Judicial Watch's pursuit of the White House visitor logs. The White House encouraged us to publicly praise the Obama administration's commitment to transparency. However, the Obama team refused to abandon their legally indefensible contention that White House visitor logs are not subject to FOIA law.

And then, in a November 30 letter, Norm Eisen reiterated the Obama administration's stonewall position. So we filed a lawsuit to ask the court to enforce the law.

The bottom line here is that the Obama administration is trying to evade the Freedom of Information Act in order to protect its hidden Secret Service visitor logs. Instead of wasting taxpayer resources stonewalling the release of these documents, the Obama administration should respect the rule of law and court precedent, and release all White House visitor logs immediately. These hidden visitor logs again show the “Big Lie” of Obama's supposed commitment to transparency.

Judicial Watch Sues Treasury Department for Documents Detailing Meetings between Obama “Pay Czar” Kenneth Feinberg and AIG

With all of the numbers thrown around by experts when discussing the financial crisis, here's one that certainly caught the public's attention last year: $165 million. That is the total amount of taxpayer funds from the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) that insurance giant AIG paid to its top executives in 2009 after the federal government (read: taxpayers) bailed the company out.

Now here's another: $100 million. That's the amount that AIG plans to disburse in bonus payments this year despite all of the promises by lawmakers and the Obama administration to address the problem.

So, who in the Obama administration is responsible for managing TARP's compensation guidelines? His name is Kenneth Feinberg. And he is now the subject of a Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit filed on February 25 against the Treasury Department.

Through our lawsuit, we're trying to obtain all documents related to meetings involving Feinberg, whose official title is the special master for executive compensation under TARP; AIG CEO Robert Benmosche; and New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley. (Click here to read more about why we're focusing on these specific individuals.) Feinberg, also known as the Obama administration's “pay czar,” is the federal official responsible for setting compensation guidelines for the seven largest firms using funds from TARP, including AIG.

Here are the specific documents we're seeking through our November 23, 2009, FOIA request:

A. Any and all records, including agendas, briefing papers, memoranda, minutes, notes, presentations, and/or summaries of the meeting on November 4, 2009 between Kenneth Feinberg, the special master for TARP executive compensation of the U.S. Treasury, Robert Benmosche, the CEO of the American International Group, and AIG's Board of Directors.

B. Any and all records, including agendas, briefing papers, memoranda, minutes, notes, presentations, and/or summaries of the meeting on November 12, 2009 between Kenneth Feinberg
and William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

C. Any and all records, including agendas, briefing papers, memoranda, minutes, notes, presentations, and/or summaries of the meeting on November 17, 2009 between Kenneth Feinberg
and Robert Benmosche, the CEO of the American International Group.

The Treasury Department acknowledged that it received Judicial Watch's FOIA request on December 3, 2009, and then gave itself a ten-day extension for processing. However, to date, Treasury has failed to respond to the request in any manner. As we noted in our lawsuit, “This is not the first time in which [Treasury] has acknowledged [Judicial Watch's] FOIA request, granted itself a ten day extension, and failed to take any other action within the statutory time period. [Judicial Watch] currently has eight additional FOIA requests pending with [Treasury] in which [Treasury] has acted in the same or a similar manner.”

That's right, eight FOIA requests were filed by Judicial Watch on the massive bailouts — and eight FOIA requests are being stonewalled by Obama's Treasury Department.

And why would the Obama administration want to keep secret documents pertaining to its handling of the AIG bailout? Perhaps there's even more dirt to be found.

We already know that Obama officials reportedly lobbied Congress to insert legislative language allowing the AIG bonus payments and then apparently lied about their knowledge of the payment. (As then-head of the New York Federal Reserve, current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner helped craft the original AIG deal.)

The meetings at issue in Judicial Watch's FOIA request took place in November 2009, just weeks after Feinberg publicly announced pay cuts and salary caps for AIG's top paid executives. But what assurances did Feinberg give during his meetings with AIG and others behind closed doors? What deals were struck? We want to know.

The Obama administration apparently believes when it comes to doling out TARP funds it's none of the American people's business, even though there is ample evidence that the TARP disbursement process is apparently rife with corruption, cronyism and mismanagement. With trillions of taxpayer dollars on the line, the Obama administration should open the books. After all, we're paying the bills. Treasury's secrecy about the bailouts is an absolute scandal that is undermining our country.

Judicial Watch Sues Homeland Security for Documents Detailing Distribution of S Visas

Did you realize that the federal government has a program to provide visas to aliens who provide information on criminal and/or terrorist activity? Did you realize that these individuals — including individuals with ties to criminals and terrorists — can be placed on the fast track for U.S. citizenship if their information proves useful?

This information would likely come as a surprise to most Americans. And that's why Judicial Watch has launched an investigation to find out more about this little known federal program.

On February 25, we filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Obama Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to obtain information regarding the administration's distribution of S Visas.

Here's what we're after:

A. All CIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) records concerning the distribution or allocation of S visas.

B. All records establishing the legal and/or policy basis of eligibility for S Visas.

C. All statistical records concerning the issuance of S visas.

(The time frame for the request is from January 2008 to the present.)

Homeland Security acknowledged receiving Judicial Watch's request on January 11, 2010, but has failed entirely to respond to the request within the statutory allotted 20 business days.

Now, here's what we know so far about this program.

The S Visa provision was added to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and allows aliens who possess “critical information on criminal or terrorist organizations to come into the United States in order to provide information to law enforcement officials.” Since 1995, the government has issued 900 S Visas.

According to the law, 200 S Visas can be distributed annually for information related to criminal activity (known as S-5 status), while 50 S Visas can be distributed annually for information related to terrorist activity (known as S-6 status). However, there is no cap on the number of family members of informants eligible for S Visa status. S Visas are intended to be temporary with a maximum stay of three years. However, S Visa holders can achieve permanent visa status at the discretion of the Attorney General.

There seems to be very little oversight of this program and even less information available to the public regarding the criteria used to determine who receives an S Visa or under what circumstances. I don't think it is a stretch to suggest that alien informants with inside information on criminal or terrorist activity might themselves be dangerous individuals. We're hoping our FOIA request and lawsuit will shed some light on this little understood — and potentially dangerous — program. I will update you as events warrant.

Until next week…



Tom Fitton
President


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