NOVEMBER 27, 2015
There may be legitimate reasons for the Secret Service to keep some documents from the public. But concealing taxpayer-funded security expenses for Barack Obama’s luxury vacations sure isn’t one of them. That’s why your JW has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Secret Service for failing to respond to 19 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for security-related expenses related to travel by Barack Obama and other VIPs. The Secret Service has not responded to any of the 19 FOIA requests since July 21, 2014. The FOIA lawsuit, filed on November 10, asks the court to enjoin the Secret Service from continuing to withhold responsive documents from Judicial Watch. (The Secret Service is a component of the Department of Homeland Security.) The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon.
For years, Judicial Watch has regularly monitored expenditures of U.S. Government funds by the president, members of the first family, and other VIPs receiving Secret Service protection.
FOIA requests to the U.S. Air Force and other agencies enabled Judicial Watch to determine that, to date, the total known travel expenses for various trips by the Obamas and Bidens are currently $70,563,336.75.
But the extraordinary lack of cooperation by the Secret Service has prevented Judicial Watch from gathering complete records of taxpayer-funded, VIP travel. These Secret Service records typically include records of expenses incurred for ground transportation, lodging, meals, and other related costs, as well as the accompanying Secret Service details. The lawsuit details:
Since July 21, 2014, Plaintiff has submitted 19 travel-related FOIA requests to the Secret Service as part of Plaintiffs on-going monitoring of federally-funded, VIP travel. All of the requests were identical or nearly identical but for the name of the VIP and the date and/or destination of the travel. Plaintiffs requests sought: “All records concerning use of U.S. Government funds to provide security and/or any other services to [name of VIP] and any other companions on their [date] trip to [location].”
The Secret Service has not made a determination on a single, travel-related FOIA request served by Plaintiff since July 21, 2014.
Judicial Watch previously sued the Secret Service five times between 2012 and 2014 for security related information on presidential and VIP travel. Prior litigation and other FOIA requests resulted in a number of details about security costs of trips to New York for a “date night” ($11,648.17), a 2013 trip to Africa ($2,189,727.60), a 2013 adventure to Ireland ($251,161.86), and 2014 fundraising trip to Denver ($200,383.70).
Judicial Watch asserts that the Secret Service has “a policy and practice of violating FOIA” requirements, Judicial Watch attorneys are asking the court to enjoin the Secret Service from continuing to withhold the requested records and other information from Judicial Watch for 19 current requests.
Prior examples of Judicial Watch FOIA requests that gathered travel cost information include:
A February and March 2015 golf and fundraising trip which cost taxpayers $4,436,245.50 in travel expenses alone;
A June 2015 trip by Michelle Obama to the UK and Italy which cost taxpayers $240,495.67 in travel expenses alone;
A March 2014 trip by Michelle Obama to China which cost taxpayers $360,000 in travel expenses alone;
An April 2015 single day trip to the Florida Everglades for Earth Day which cost taxpayers $866,615.40 in travel expenses alone;
And a February 2015 weekend ski trip by Michelle Obama to Aspen, Colorado, which cost taxpayers $57,000 in travel expenses alone.
Rarely does Judicial Watch seek an injunction under FOIA, but the Secret Service has ignored a record 19 Freedom of Information requests on Obama and other presidential-level travel. The FOIA requests seek access to records about taxpayer dollars expended on the extravagant and often unnecessary travel enjoyed by the President, his family members, and others receiving Secret Service protection. We have little doubt the Secret Service, which is already mired in controversy, is covering up embarrassing numbers about the costs of security for Barack Obama’s vacation and political fundraising trips.
We’ve been stonewalled for years on our Benghazi and Clinton cash Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits by the State Department. However, if you are Hillary Clinton, the State Department will rubber stamp your proposed, perhaps with sensitive information that should not see the light of day, in record time.
That’s the conclusion from reviewing the documents we just released revealing that State Department officials ordered rushed approval of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s manuscript for her memoir Hard Choices. The documents show a key State Department official had concerns about the disclosure of classified information in the book concerning Iran and an effort to destroy draft copies of Clinton’s book in State Department files and from State Department computer systems.
The documents were obtained from the State Department last month in response to a June 12, 2014, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the following:
Records regarding the review, vetting, and/or approval of the publication of the memoir Hard Choices by former Secretary of State Clinton. This request includes, but it not limited to records of communications between any official, employee, or representative of the Department of State and any other individual or entity related to the review and approval process.
(It took over a year to respond to our request!)
The documents show the first Clinton book chapters were delivered to Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services John Hackett in February 2014. Hackett began pressuring his staff for approval on March 7. On March 10, Senior Reviewer Charles Daris urged reviewers at the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau to “turn these around as quickly as possible to meet the hopes and expectations of the author.” That same day, State Department official Neil Silver writes: “The FOIA office is under great pressure to turn this around quickly. If you are tardy in your response, you may get a high-level Department official call.
On March 13, Daris emails show that the Near East staff was given three working days to respond to the book’s chapter on Benghazi and that the State Department delayed sending the manuscript to the CIA for review at the request of former Clinton campaign staffer Ethan Gelber. Daris also documents that factual errors have been found in the Iran chapter and that the Maghreb desk has “comment” on the CIA in Benghazi.
The documents also show an effort to destroy copies of draft copies of the Clinton book, evidently because “revisions were in the works.” A March 20 exchange with State Department official Paul P. Blackburn reads:
- Daris: New marching orders from our Front Office. Will you please suspend our request for clearance and find a way to get all/all of the copies back that you sent to EAP [East Asian and Pacific Affairs]. Please confirm to me when you have done so.
- Blackburn: I have just retrieved the two copies of the chapter portions Neil passed to the China and Japan desks (i.e., pages 53-73 of “Back to Beijing” and 87-119 of “Green Light.”) In each case, I was assured that no reproductions were made, so I think we now have “all/all of the copies.”
- Daris: Excellent, Paul. Please destroy them. Thank you. C
The documents show a sudden decision to halt all work on the review of Clinton’s chapter on Iran, followed by a request that all extant copies be found and destroyed, apparently prompted by the State Department’s Iran Desk’s concerns about the manuscript.
State Department officials were cautioned to be careful in how they proffered editorial suggestions to the former Secretary’s staff. In a March 12, 2014, email to Silver, Peter Hemsch suggests, “We may reach out informally to the former Secretary’s staff re: the policy issues raised; just a low-key, friendly heads-up to double-check that they have considered a policy angle.” Daris forwarded the email, adding that suggestions should be passed along “reiterating that it is not/not a formal Dept response.”
Hillary Clinton can get her book, despite disclosing classified material, approved in record time from the same State Department that is slow-walking and obstructing, over years, the release of the notorious Clinton emails about Benghazi and other scandals.
The desperate effort to destroy copies of the Clinton draft shows that any remaining drafts need to be uncovered and reviewed.
My guess is the American people, the courts, and law enforcement will be angry that yet more Clinton records, which included sensitive and potentially classified information, were destroyed.
I hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving. From JW’s perspective, I thank the Lord for all our supporters who make our work possible.
Washington corruption places our nation at risk and puts your God-given freedoms in jeopardy. You can be proud to be a supporter of a group that stands in the gap to expose and curtail this dangerous corruption.
We should all be grateful as Americans for the precious freedoms we still have – and the rule of law that protects them. I can think of no other country that would allow a “Judicial Watch” to go toe-to-toe in the courts and hold powerful agencies like the IRS and corrupt national politicians like Hillary Clinton to account.
I encourage you to make a special Thanksgiving contribution in recognition that JW represents the last, best hope in DC for keeping our government honest and accountable to the law.
In the meantime, may God continue to bless you and the United States of America.