MAY 09, 2014
Judicial Watch Lawsuit Success Forces Congress to Act on Benghazi
Last week in the Weekly Update we reported to you that in our continuing efforts to pierce the Obama Benghazi cover-up we had finally found the smoking gun – and started an uproar. On Tuesday, April 29, we released 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents, and the major media immediately began wall-to-wall coverage that put the Obama administration on the defensive and led to a special House Select Committee that promises to do a better job of exposing the full story of what happened before, during, and after the deadly attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi.
We released to the public a newly declassified email showing then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials attempting to orchestrate a campaign to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” They also colluded to try to convince the public of Obama’s “strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.” Other documents show that State Department officials initially described the incident as an “attack” and a possible kidnap attempt.
If you watched the ongoing, remarkable coverage of the Judicial Watch expose, you will recall that the Obama administration’s first response was to trot out White House press secretary Jay Carney to tell reporters not to believe their own eyes. Yes, he intoned, of course there was a memo from Rhodes – but it was not about Benghazi: “This document was explicitly not about Benghazi, but about the general dynamic in the Muslim world at the time,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
This was a surreal answer from Jay Carney. Now, this is a prep session with Susan Rice, getting ready for five Sunday talk shows. This is three days after 9/11 when four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya, are killed. Everybody in the chain has said it’s a terrorist attack, everyone in the chain is saying there’s no protest. And yet this email, if we’re to believe Jay Carney at the White House, had nothing to do with Benghazi … Now, that really strains credulity, I mean it is really out there.
In an explosive op-ed in the Washington Times, Judge Andrew Napolitano gave Judicial Watch full credit for getting hold of critical material that the House of Representatives had been denied by a battened-down Obama White House:
The White House responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the fearless private watchdog group Judicial Watch and turned over an email about constructing the appropriate narrative response to the tragedy at Benghazi written by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Obama.
When investigators from the House of Representatives realized that they had subpoenaed that email and not received it, they knew that there was far more to learn about the affair than met theeye.
After we broke the story, House Speaker John Boehner reacted by calling for a House vote on forming a Select Committee on Benghazi. And I issued the following statement in support of his move:
I applaud Speaker Boehner’s decision today to finally move toward a Select Committee on Benghazi in response to revelations from Judicial Watch. This is long overdue. Judicial Watch is pleased that its work uncovered the “smoking gun” Rhodes email that led to this important step. Five House Committees have failed for nearly two years to get to the bottom of the Benghazi mess and have been trifled with by a stonewalling administration. We stand ready to assist Congress in any investigation of this important issue.
Now, this is a long time coming. Judicial Watch had been part of a broad coalition calling for Boehner to appoint a select committee for some time. It finally took our startling disclosure, tying the White House to Benghazi lies, to push Boehner over the edge. Congress had been denied this document, and its investigation and subpoenas had been thwarted by the Obama gang. To his credit, the Speaker of the House had had enough.
But, even with all of that, we still aren’t finished. We are pleased that there is now a Select Committee but if you know Judicial Watch, you also know that we aren’t going to shut down our investigations and lawsuits just because a new congressional committee has been formed.
And so our battle to expose the truth on Benghazi is only heating up.
Obama Administration Benghazi Cover Up Continues
Once again, taking the lead in investigating Benghazi, Judicial Watch released a 17-page draft Vaughn Index document obtained from the U.S. Department of State on May 1, which reveals how the Obama administration is still refusing to provide the full details of how top officials arrived at the now-discredited talking points released to the public following the deadly assault on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya. The new documents, containing more than 50 paragraphs of justifications to withhold information, were obtained in response our June 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch, Inc., v. U.S. Department of State, (Civil Action No. 13-cv-00951 (EGS)) that uncovered the Benghazi White House talking points stunner.
A Vaughn Index is a document prepared by a federal agency to justify and detail the withholding of material from public disclosure. The State Department sent the Benghazi draft Vaughn Index to Judicial Watch on May 1, 2014, in accordance with a court order of October 1, 2013.
The new document seeks to justify withholding internal Obama administration exchanges about the Benghazi attack dating back to a September 11, 2013, interagency email exchange containing redactions of an opinion offered on how to respond Benghazi attack updates. Though the State Department document repeatedly describes the material as “Unclassified” or “Sensitive But Unclassified,” it nonetheless justifies scores of extensive redactions and exemptions.
I’m going to go through this material in detail for you because much of the media will do its best provide cover for a White House already under attack because of Judicial Watch’s revelations.
The majority of material in the draft Vaughn Index document pertains to “various drafts, and comments related to the drafts, of a proposed letter from United States Mission to the United Nations (USUN) Ambassador Susan Rice in response to various Congressional inquiries regarding the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya.” The internal debate about the Rice response apparently continued until October 30, 2012. The material obtained by Judicial Watch included the following descriptions related to redacted or exempted material:
- Document C05415305is a seven-page inter-agency e-mail exchange consisting of sixteen messages between State Department and other U.S. Government officials [Rhodes, Brennan, McDonough . . .] on September 27 and September 28, 2012, with an original subject line “FOX News: US officials knew Libya attack was terrorism within 24 hours, sources confirm.” Subsequent e-mail subject lines were redacted. The document was originally designated SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. The Department withheld comments, opinions and assessments related to the formulation of a media strategy with respect to an ongoing sensitive matter under Exemption 5 pursuant to the deliberative process privilege…The information withheld under Exemption 5 is pre-decisional and deliberative in nature. The release of this information could reasonably be expected to chill the frank deliberations that occur when State Department and other U.S. Government officials are formulating public responses to address sensitive issues. The material is therefore exempt under FOIA Exemption 5, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5), pursuant to the deliberative process privilege.”
- Document C05415752 is a one-page intra-agency e-mail exchange, consisting of three messages, that is dated September 11, 2012, and bears the subject line “UPDATE: Clashes at U.S. consulate in eastern Libyan city (Reuters).” The Department withheld an opinion offered in response to an update regarding the Benghazi attack under FOIA Exemption 5 pursuant to the deliberative process privilege.
- Document C05415756 is a four-page intra-agency e-mail exchange consisting of ten messages between State Department officials, dated September 11, 2012, with the subject line “Libya update from Beth Jones.” [Jones was Assistant Secretary of State to Hillary Clinton at the time of the Benghazi attack.]
- Document C05415286 is a three-page intra-agency e-mail exchange, consisting of three messages, dated September 15, 2012, between various State Department personnel. This document … gives a readout and comments on an internal video conference held by U.S. Government officials on September 15, which discussed the security situation in parts of the Islamic world in the wake of a controversial film on the Prophet Mohammed.
- Document C05415951 is a three-page intra-agency e-mail exchange, consisting of six messages, between State Department and other U.S. Government officials, dated September 28, 2012 and originally designated UNCLASSIFIED. The subject line of the first five messages is “Statement by the Director of Public Affairs for National Intelligence Shawn Turner on the intelligence related to the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.”
- Document C05415969 is a three-page intra-agency e-mail exchange, consisting of six messages, dated September 29-30, 2012. The subject line of the messages is “Benghazi Draft Response Letter- v14.” The Department withheld candid comments, opinions and assessments made during internal strategy discussions related to the drafting of an official response letter under FOIA Exemption 5 pursuant to the deliberative process privilege.
- Documents C05416026 is a two-page intra-agency e-mail exchange, consisting of three messages, dated September 30, 2012. The subject lines of the three messages are, beginning with the earliest in time, “Press Recommendation on Libya,” “Draft Response – Vl 7,” and “[Redacted] version of the response letter.”
The State Department’s withholdings make President Obama’s transparency pledges seem like a joke. In one of his first official acts (on January 21, 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum on FOIA that includes the following:
Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.
All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.
This document is a guide to the Obama administration’s Benghazi cover up. While Congress finally tries to get its act together, while the liberal media attacks, Judicial Watch will keep plugging away in court to get at the truth about Benghazi.
Judicial Watch Role in Lerner Contempt Citation
I’m pleased to report that Benghazi is not the only major Obama administration scandal Judicial Watch has moved to the front burner in Washington. On Wednesday, May 7, the House of Representatives voted 231-187 to hold disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups. Moments after the contempt vote, the House passed a separate resolution asking the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to probe the IRS over the scandal, by a vote of 250-168.
Regular readers of the Weekly Update will recall that Judicial Watch has been on the cutting edge from the very beginning in ferreting out the truth about Lerner’s efforts to harass and hamstring conservative organizations. Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits resulted in revelations of Lerner’s collusion with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as her spearheading efforts within the IRS to delay or block applications from Tea Party groups for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status in what clearly was an attempt to impact the 2012 presidential election.
Just as in the case of the Benghazi scandal, Judicial Watch was able to obtain documents that the Obama administration had refused to provide to Congress. In early April of this year, we released a batch of internal IRS documents revealing that Lerner had directly communicated with DOJ officials about whether it was possible to criminally prosecute certain tax-exempt entities. The documents were obtained through an October 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the IRS after the agency refused to respond to four FOIA requests dating back to May 2013.
In a particularly revealing email sent by Lerner on May 8, 2013, to Nikole C. Flax (then-Chief of Staff to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller) , the Exempt Organizations director discussed her plans to work with the DOJ to prosecute nonprofit groups for political activities. Just two days before she revealed the IRS assault on Tea Party groups, falsely blaming it all on the Cincinnati office, Lerner laid out her plans to Flax to collude with Eric Holder’s DOJ:
I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ … He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who “lied” on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs. I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS…
One month earlier, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) had held a hearing during which, “in questioning the witnesses from DOJ and IRS, Whitehouse asked why they have not prosecuted 501(c)(4) groups that have seemingly made false statements about their political activities.” In a March 27, 2013, email obtained by Judicial Watch, Lerner had already made it clear to top IRS staff that the impetus for the Whitehouse hearing was to go after political groups:
As I mentioned yesterday — there are several groups of folks from the FEC world that are pushing tax fraud prosecution for c4s who report they are not conducting political activity when they are (or these folks think they are). One is my ex-boss Larry Noble (former General Counsel at the FEC), who is now president of Americans for Campaign Reform. This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff. So, don’t be fooled about how this is being articulated – it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity. [Emphasis added]
Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – which had been largely stymied in its efforts to get to the truth about Lerner’s activities – was quick to recognize the import and impact of the Judicial Watch disclosures. “The release of new documents underscores the political nature of IRS Tea Party targeting and the extent to which supposed apolitical officials took direction from elected Democrats,” said Issa. “These emails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”
Judicial Watch has helped shape the case that has now led to Lerner’s contempt of Congress citation and calls for a special counsel to criminally investigate the matter.
And we will keep the pressure on. We’ll be announcing new IRS revelations next week, so stay tuned.
Pennsylvania: Fighting Back Against a “Tyranny of One”
“If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.” –Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
Public corruption and abuse of office isn’t just a DC phenomenon. Corruption in the states is also endemic and more “in your face” than the typical DC scandal. So when Judicial Watch Attorney Michael Bekesha testified before the State Government Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on May 6, 2014, he didn’t pull any punches. Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Bekesha explained, had consistently refused to honor her sworn oath to uphold the constitution of the state. And he warned of dire consequences if she was allowed to continue abrogating the duly enacted laws of the Commonwealth.
As James Madison warned in Federalist 47: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Attorney General Kane’s announcement on July 11, 2013,when Kane announced she would not defend Pennsylvania’s defense of marriage law, makes it clear that she believes that she has the authority to create, enforce, and interpret the law. In Attorney General Kane’s view, Pennsylvania is a tyranny of one, not a democracy.
Clearly, concisely, and forcefully Bekesha explained that Kane had violated her oath of office in not just one, but four separate instances. And in each case, he charged, she has shown “little respect for her office and the people of Pennsylvania.” (To review Bekesha’s testimony in full, click here.)
Bekesha was invited to testify about Kane’s malfeasance by the Chairman of the State Government Committee, Daryl Metcalfe. Citing Kane’s continuing refusal to uphold Commonwealth laws with which she disagrees, Metcalfe has initiated proceedings that ought to result in the Attorney General’s impeachment.
Bekesha suggested that Kane “must have had her fingers crossed” when she put her hand on the Bible and swore to “discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.” He advised the Committee members that since then she had taken upon herself to “decide which laws she wants to uphold and defend.” And he cited as proof four specific instances in which her actions spurned a 1973 Commonwealth Court ruling that, “The Attorney General is without statutory authority to implement his opinion as to constitutionality”:
- Attorney General Kane declared a duly enacted Pennsylvania law [against homosexual marriage] unconstitutional and announced that she would not “uphold and defend” it. Although her action in itself may not have been the suspension of the law, the result of her declaration was just that. Less than two weeks after her announcement, the Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes stated that he was prepared to violate the law based on, in part, ‘the Attorney General’s belief that Pennsylvania’s marriage laws are unconstitutional.’
- In January 2014, the State Ethics Commission concluded that the promotion of the Attorney General’s sister to Chief Deputy Attorney General Child Predator Section “created a perception that the promotion of [her] sister was not free from [her] influence.” Again, the Attorney General and others could argue “no harm, no foul.” But we know that is not true. The process is as important, if not more important than, the results. As lawyers and judges regularly say, just the appearance of impropriety or misbehavior damages the office.
- [B]ased on records received by Judicial Watch from the Office of the Mayor of New York, Attorney General Kane, shortly before taking office, received a “Gun Policy Memo” from then-Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors against Illegal Guns group. One can only wonder who and what money is influencing her decisions concerning the Second Amendment.
- Then, we have Attorney General Kane’s decision not to prosecute certain elected officials for allegedly accepting cash and other gifts in exchange for voting “no” on the Pennsylvania Voter ID bill that passed in 2012.
In the latter situation, as the Philadelphia Inquirer explained the situation in a March, 17, 2014, expose:
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office ran an undercover sting operation over three years that captured leading Philadelphia Democrats, including four members of the city’s state House delegation, on tape accepting money …
Prosecutors began the sting in 2010 when Republican Tom Corbett was attorney general. After Democrat Kathleen G. Kane took office in 2013, she shut it down …
Before Kane ended the investigation, sources familiar with the inquiry said, prosecutors amassed 400 hours of audio and videotape that documented at least four city Democrats taking payments in cash or money orders, and in one case a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.
We’re proud of the work Michael Bekesha did on behalf of JW in Pennsylvania. It is particularly fitting that he journeyed to the state that gave us the Declaration of Independence to help ensure that the rule of law remains independent of political correctness and partisan politics.
The impeachment process in Pennsylvania is as controversial as you would expect it to be here in Washington, DC – and a good indication of how any impeachment against Obama, Holder, or other administration officials would proceed. As the hearing was beginning, Democrats first tried to shut down the hearing. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports:
Democrats on the panel did not hear Bekesha or three other witnesses. They boycotted the hearing, walking out when the GOP chairman asked House security to remove a lawmaker who repeatedly suggested adjourning the hearing.
“Have your kangaroo court, pal,” state Rep. Mike O’Brien, D-Philadelphia, said as guards approached him. He left on his own.
J. Christian Adams, who is helping us in our Election Integrity Project, also testified separately about Kane’s abuses.
We’ll keep you posted on what becomes of Kathleen Kane and her penchant for inflicting the Commonwealth with what Michael so aptly labeled a “tyranny of one.”
Until next week…
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