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April 30, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Obama Justice Department Tells Court to Shield White House Visitor Logs from Full Disclosure and FOIA Law
Now it’s official. The Obama White House has made the bogus claim in court that the Secret Service’s logs of White House visitors are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and therefore may be kept secret from the American people. In other words, the Obama administration believes you have no right to know under law who visits the White House or under what circumstances.
The Obama Justice Department stated its position in an April 21 court filing in a Judicial Watch lawsuit. As Judicial Watch noted in its original complaint filed on December 7, 2009, the administration’s claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by the courts.
As you may recall, Judicial Watch wants access to records detailing all visitors to the White House from January 20, 2009, to the present. And on February 22, 2010, we filed a “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” in our lawsuit noting that the Obama administration is running afoul of the rule of law and court precedent:
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.
Now Obama Justice Department lawyers don’t dispute the fact that the courts are not on their side in this issue. They simply say that “the district court cases on which [Judicial Watch] relies for a contrary conclusion were incorrectly decided.” They are standing by their erroneous argument that the visitor logs “are not agency (Secret Service) records subject to FOIA – despite the fact, as we note in our court documents, that these visitor logs were "created by" the U.S. Secret Service and that they remain “under agency control.”
And just in case the court doesn’t buy this line of reasoning, Justice Department lawyers also threw out the “national security card” to see if that will stick.
They speculated that there would be “dire national security consequences” if certain White House visitors were disclosed. To guard against these “consequences,” the Obama White House wants to be able to withhold visitor logs until as long as 12 years after President Obama leaves office. The Justice Department admits in its new court filing that the White House is taking records out of the Secret Service in order to ensure that they are not disclosed under FOIA.
In a bit of political grandstanding, the Justice Department also praised the Obama administration’s efforts to “voluntarily” release some White House visitor logs to the public, implying that this policy should be sufficient for Judicial Watch and the public at large. It is not. It is true that in 2009 in order to settle related litigation that the Obama White House began to release a select number of Secret Service visitor logs to the public. However, tens of thousands of other records continue to be withheld in defiance of FOIA law.
And, as you may recall, when Judicial Watch called public attention to the Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy regarding these visitor logs, we were invited to the White House to “discuss” the matter.
At the request of the White House, Judicial Watch staff visited with senior White House officials led by Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government. During the meeting, White House officials offered to make some accommodations to Judicial Watch regarding the visitor logs and encouraged Judicial Watch to publicly praise the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency. However, the White House refused to abandon its legally indefensible contention that the visitor logs are not subject to FOIA law, prompting Judicial Watch’s lawsuit. And here we are.
I find it shameful that the Obama administration would undermine a key transparency law in order to keep White House visitor logs secret. Only the Obama administration could offer to release pre-scrubbed White House visitor logs while withholding tens of thousands of other records and call it transparency. President Obama has violated his campaign promises of openness and transparency. We hope the court will do what it has done on previous occasions and uphold FOIA law.
Arizona Draws Line in the Sand on Immigration (and Obama is on the other side)
On April 23rd, citing the federal government’s dismal failure to deal with the illegal immigration crisis, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a new bill that tries to address the illegal alien crisis that is disproportionately impacting Arizona.
And, as you might expect, the reaction from illegal immigration activists and radical leftists was swift and severe, starting with the Obama White House, which is looking for any opportunity it can to shore up the so-called “Hispanic vote” for November. Obviously ignorant of both the details of Arizona law and federal immigration law, Obama irresponsibly criticized the legislation as “misguided” and suggested his politically-pliant Justice Department would consider suing the State of Arizona to prevent the law from going into effect. Liberal political leaders immediately called for an economic boycott of the state. Illegal immigration proponents vowed protests across the country this weekend in at least 70 cities.
In his remarks criticizing the Arizona bill, Obama said that the “efforts” in Arizona “threaten to undermine the basic notions of fairness we cherish as Americans.” This president has evidently learned nothing from the blow-up over his racially-charged attack on the Cambridge Police Department last year. It is shameful for Obama and his cheerleading section in the liberal press to so readily play the race card in opposing this commonsense law.
Here’s one thing we don’t need – a lecture from Barack Obama on the basic notion of fairness while he prepares to grant amnesty to tens of millions of illegal aliens who crossed our border in violation of the law.
The citizens of Arizona need the support of other Americans in this battle as they are on the front lines in the illegal alien crisis. Over the past few years, Judicial Watch has worked closely with Arizona citizens, law enforcement, and elected officials on the issue of enforcing the law to combat illegal immigration.
The most controversial section of the new law, which you can read in its entirety here, simply codifies what the police have the inherent power to do anywhere in the United States – investigate the immigration status of individuals in consultation with federal authorities.
Back in 2007, Judicial Watch partnered with local communty and business leaders and “America’s Toughest Sheriff” — Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio on the issue. Our work helped lead to a crack down on illegal alien criminals resulting in dozens of arrests. Judicial Watch also launched a comprehensive public education campaign concerning the City of Phoenix’s immigration enforcement policies. Several months after Judicial Watch initiated this campaign, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon abandoned his long-held support of his city’s sanctuary policy. As a result, even without the new law, everyone arrested in Phoenix is now questioned about his or her citizenship.
The rampant lawlessness emanating from the unprotected Arizona-Mexico border has made Phoenix the kidnapping-capital of the world. Mexican drug traffickers also traffic in humans. The cartels bring Mexicans illegally across the border and then hold them for ransom in “drop houses” across Phoenix until family members and friends pay to release them from captivity. We’ve done an extensive, ground-breaking investigation of this kidnapping crisis – for more details, click here.
Rampant crime, violent drug cartels operating with impunity, and human trafficking – this is the reality that Arizona legal residents, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic face every day. Rather than doing as the law requires – cooperate with state officials to fully enforce our immigration laws – Obama and his “law-enforcement” team (to include the ethically-challenged Attorney General Eric Holder and the soft-on-border-security Janet Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security Chief) are attacking Arizona and seeking to undermine the rule of law.
While there is a calculated effort to demonize Governor Brewer, Sheriff Joe and anyone else who supports this bill as intolerant racists, let’s keep this in mind, according to a Rassmussen poll, nearly two-thirds of Arizona citizens support the legislation! And the same is true for citizens all across the country. According to a national survey Judicial Watch conducted last December in partnership with SurveyUSA: The vast majority (77%) of likely voters are opposed to local governments providing sanctuary to illegal aliens, and a majority (61%) want local law enforcement to be more involved in enforcing immigration laws.
The bottom line is most Americans want our immigration laws enforced. And here’s why: According to the Associated Press illegal aliens are not waiting for the law to take effect this summer to “get out of Dodge.” They’re leaving now.
Just imagine if every state in the country, along with the federal government, decided to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. The illegal immigration problem could be solved.
Now those opposed to the new Arizona law generally don’t want any enforcement of immigration law. Judicial Watch does. I can assure you that your Judicial Watch will do what it can to help defend and enforce this law in Arizona.
JW Victory: LA County Sheriff Backs Down after Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit, Okays Press Interview with Inmate
Let’s close with a Judicial Watch victory this week.
Facing a Judicial Watch lawsuit, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca backed down and allowed a local public access network to interview attorney Richard Fine, who is currently sitting in the Men’s Central Jail on a civil contempt of court charge stemming from his legal efforts to counter alleged corruption in the Los Angeles County court system.
As you may remember, we filed our lawsuit on behalf of Leslie Dutton and the American Association of Women. Ms. Dutton operates the "Full Disclosure Network," the network that sought an interview with Mr. Fine.
As you can see in this video link on “Full Disclosure” reporting on the change of heart, the Sheriff’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, bent over backwards denying that Judicial Watch’s lawsuit had anything to do with this obvious about-face. (It’s quite a tap dance. You should check it out.) But we know differently. “Full Disclosure” had no access. We filed the lawsuit. And suddenly, the network had access. Even Whitmore had to admit that “Obviously logic dictates when you take an action like that it comes to the forefront of everybody’s attention.” That has certainly been our experience.
It has been a while since I covered this lawsuit, so let me give you a bit of the back story: Beginning in April 2009, the “Full Disclosure Network,” which is an Emmy Award-winning public affairs program available on public access channels and over the Internet, attempted to interview Mr. Fine for its "Judicial Benefits and Court Corruption" series. The network and Mr. Fine have been highly critical of a "double dipping" scheme by Los Angeles County to compensate judges with benefits and perks they are already receiving from the state. (As you know, Judicial Watch filed a separate lawsuit over this same issue.) The Full Disclosure Network has also been critical of the decision to incarcerate Mr. Fine.
Whitmore repeatedly denied the network’s requests for interviews because “it was the policy of [Sheriff Baca] not to allow interviews of Mr. Fine.” However, The Los Angeles Times was granted an interview with Mr. Fine for an article published in the June 7, 2009, edition of the newspaper.
Clearly, Sheriff Baca was playing favorites, denying “Full Disclosure” access to an interview because he didn’t like the network’s editorial content. This is constitutionally impermissible. Law enforcement officers cannot target citizens because of the political opinions they express. And so, we filed the lawsuit.
Regarding Mr. Fine, he has been in solitary confinement for more than a year and remains incarcerated to this day. On Monday this week, the Supreme Court rejected Fine’s petition for release. As Judicial Watch attorney Sterling “Ernie” Norris noted in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, Fine’s incarceration violates High Court precedent.
Sterling E. Norris, the counsel for Judicial Watch in San Marino, said he was surprised Fine wasn’t released because the high court has ruled in the past the longest someone can serve time in jail under "coercive confinement" is about five months.
"Otherwise, it becomes penal," Norris said. "Mr. Fine has probably done more time than most dope dealers, burglars and robbers. I think it’s unjust."
Fine maintains his confinement is related to his lawsuit that challenges Los Angeles County’s practice of paying judges an annual bonus of $57,000 in addition to their state salary of $179,000.
Congratulations, by the way, to our own Ernie Norris for taking the lead in this successful litigation. For more background, you may be interested in this National Review Online article entitled, “Richard Fine, Prisoner of Conscience.”
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.