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Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

Because no one
is above the law!


Tom Fitton's Judicial Watch Weekly Update

Weekly Update: “The ACORN Frankensteins”

September 30, 2011

From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Obama Refuses to Release bin Laden Death Photos in JW Lawsuit

Well, the Obama administration has responded in court regarding Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the CIA’s bin Laden death photos.  And given the administration’s open hostility to government transparency, it probably does not come as a surprise that the CIA is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep these photos secret.

Judicial Watch had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Obama Department of Defense (DOD) seeking the following records: “[A]ll photographs and/or video recordings of Osama (Usama) bin Laden taken during and/or after the U.S. Military operation in Pakistan on or about May 1, 2011.” (We filed an identical request with the CIA.) When the government stonewalled, we sued.  Now we’re in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia trying to force the release of the photos.

The DOD says it came up empty in response to our request, though I have good reason to believe that the Pentagon didn’t look hard enough.  But the CIA admitted it found 52 responsive records (photos and video).  Here’s a description of what they found according to the government’s most recent court filing:

These records contain images of Osama bin Laden’s body after he was killed.  Many are graphic and gruesome, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to bin Laden’s head.  Some of the images were taken inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed.  Other images were taken as bin Laden’s body was transported from the Abbottabad compound to the location where he was buried at sea.  Several images depict the preparation of Osama bin Laden’s body for the burial as well as the burial itself.  

So they have the photos and videos we’re after for sure.  But the agency refuses to release them to the public.  Why?  Well, this time they’re hiding behind the vague “implications to national security” they claim could result.  “The mere release of these images of Osama bin Laden could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt by the United States to humiliate the late al-Qa’ida leader…,” the government argued in its brief.

But the then-CIA director himself, Leon Panetta, did not seem overly concerned at all about these implications in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on May 3, 2011, just two days after the raid:  “The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don’t think there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public.”  (Panetta is now Secretary of Defense.)  

I should point out that Judicial Watch has heard this “national security” argument before.  Remember our fight for the footage of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon on 9/11?  The DOD had the videos but claimed their release could be detrimental to national security.  Well, we won in court, obtained the videos, and none of those vague “implications” ever materialized.

Here’s the bottom line here.  President Obama’s decision to keep the bin Laden photos secret is political.  It has no basis in law.  The government’s legal brief incredibly started off by citing a partial transcript of an interview of President Obama by CBS News 60 Minutes.  Obama is quoted as opposing the release of the material because he didn’t want America to be seen as “spiking the football.”  Most legal briefs cite the law up front, but the Obama Department of Justice cites an interview with the president.  I hope the court will understand that the law and the president’s own personal views aren’t necessarily the same thing in our constitutional republic (however much Obama might be tempted to behave otherwise).

We shouldn’t throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists.  There’s no “not wanting to be seen as spiking the football” exemption in FOIA law.

And regarding implications to national security, if anything, selective leaks from the Obama administration concerning operational and intelligence activities connected to the raid have done far more damage to our special operations and intelligence capability than a photograph of a dead body could ever do.

FOIA is a disclosure statute, and the public has an affirmative right to know.  We’re not after legitimate secrets related to operational or intelligence matters.  But the historical record of Osama bin Laden’s death should be released to the American people as the law requires.

I get the feeling that the Obama administration doesn’t want to release these photos because it is embarrassed both by our victory in killing bin Laden and the preposterous burial at sea.

As I’ve pointed out previously, the Obama administration has no problem releasing documents that the left thinks will embarrass the United States – say, for example, Obama’s selective release of documents disparaging “enhanced interrogation techniques” over the objections of his own national security officials.  But when it comes to documents that show the heroism of our military?  No deal.

We should not cower at the possibility that terrorists won’t like documentation of our military victory.  We cannot subject our Constitution and our rule of law to jihadist blackmail and extortion.  Judicial Watch will continue to fight for the release of the photos and to complete the public record on one of the most important military operations in United States history.  Stay tuned…

Judicial Watch Releases Special Report: “The Rebranding of ACORN”

This week we released “The Rebranding of ACORN,” an important Judicial Watch special investigative report on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).  This is report is the result of an extensive JW investigation of the organization’s transformation into various “spinoffs” and affiliated organizations.

The ACORN-affiliated groups existing today are ACORN in all but name.  These groups tend to occupy ACORN’s former offices, are staffed in many cases with former ACORN employees, and remain committed to ACORN’s corrupt mission.  

Our investigation has documented 17 ACORN-affiliated organizations in the following states/regions:  Arizona, Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New England, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

Among the conclusions of Judicial Watch’s special report, which you can access by clicking here:

  • ACORN lives on in the form of numerous state entities and in such affiliated organizations as Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA), The Advance Group, The Black Institute, and Project Vote.  In the words of Bertha Lewis, former chief executive officer of ACORN, “[T]hese entities are carrying on ACORN’s work of organizing low- and moderate-income folks…  [We have created] bullet-proof community-organizing Frankensteins that they’re going to have a very hard time attacking.”
  • Tens of millions of dollars in ACORN’s funds and other assets are still unaccounted for.  The Louisiana attorney general’s office and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, as well as Judicial Watch, continue to investigate what happened to these missing resources.
  • Judicial Watch discovered that the Obama administration continues to bankroll ACORN and its affiliates in defiance of the federal government’s funding ban.  As I’ve documented in this space, on March 1, 2011, ACORN Housing Corporation ─ renamed Affordable Housing Centers of America (though it retained the same headquarters and many of the ACORN officers) ─ received a $79,819 grant from the Obama Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • ACORN’s Project Vote, President Obama’s former employer, remains active in registering voters on public assistance to re-elect Obama and other leftist candidates.  In Colorado, for instance, Judicial Watch uncovered documents proving that ACORN/Project Vote successfully pressured Colorado officials into implementing new policies for increasing the registration of public assistance recipients during the 2008 and 2010 election seasons.  After the policy changes, the percentage of fraudulent voter registration forms from Colorado public assistance agencies was  four times the national average. (Evidence also suggests that the Obama Justice Department might be partnering with Project Vote in this campaign.)

At its peak, ACORN had over 400,000 members and 1,200 chapters in more 100 cities.  Linked to serious scandals involving the misuse of taxpayer funds, embezzlement, intimidation tactics, employee abuse, questionable hiring tactics, and fraudulent voter registrations, ACORN’s corrupt activities finally caught the attention of the American public and members of Congress.  Of course the final blow came in the form of explosive journalist videos showing ACORN employees advising undercover reporters on how to evade taxes, as well as immigration, housing, and child prostitution laws.

After the videos “went viral” in October 2009, Congress passed and Barack Obama signed into law the Defund ACORN Act which effectively prohibited the federal government from funding “ACORN and any ACORN-related affiliate.”  ACORN subsequently filed for bankruptcy on November 2, 2010.   

As we document in our report, however, long before its bankruptcy filing ACORN’s leadership implemented a plan to ensure the survival of ACORN as independent state corporations and affiliated organizations.  The Judicial Watch report provides details on the individual organizations and their officers.

The corrupt ACORN affiliate Project Vote’s current campaign to register to vote Obama’s “Food Stamp Army” will surely result in fraud and lawbreaking.   

The bottom line here is that rumors of ACORN’s demise are vastly overstated. The ACORN network, especially its partner in crime Project Vote, is alive and well and operating across the country.   And the Obama administration, sure enough, has begun refunding the ACORN housing group in violation of the law.  We fear a taxpayer-funded repeat of the ACORN/Project Vote voter registration scandal in 2012.

(Obviously, don’t expect the Obama Justice Department to take action to address the corrupt activities of ACORN and its thinly disguised spinoffs.)

Obama served as the Illinois executive director of the ACORN partner Project Vote in 1992. His campaign paid more than $800,000 to an ACORN organization to help “get out the vote” in his successful primary campaign against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2008.  In November 2007, then-Senator Obama addressed ACORN and thanked the organization for its work: “I’ve been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career. Even before I was an elected official, when I ran Project Vote voter registration drive in Illinois, ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work.”

Barack Obama is truly “the president from ACORN.”

More on Michelle Obama’s Family Trip to Africa

As Congress was in the middle of the debt ceiling debate this summer, deciding which bloated federal programs to cut, Michelle Obama decided to take a nice taxpayer-funded “working” vacation to South Africa and Botswana with her children.  Judicial Watch began asking some very simple questions:   What was the purpose of the trip and how much did it cost?  We’re just now starting to get some answers.

This week we obtained mission expense records and passenger manifests from the United States Air Force related to the June 21-27, 2011, trip.  Judicial Watch obtained the documents pursuant to an August 19, 2011, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.  It is amazing how transparent the Obama administration becomes once you sue them in a federal court!  

On June 28, 2011, we filed a FOIA request seeking the mission taskings, transportation records, and passenger manifests for Michelle Obama’s Africa trip.  Our FOIA lawsuit extracted some interesting information:

  • According to U.S. Department of Defense’s published hourly rates for the C-32A aircraft used for the trip, we calculated the total cost to American taxpayers was $424,142 for the flight and crew.  (The C-32 is a specially configured military version of the Boeing 757.)  Other expenses ─ meals (off the plane), transportation, security, various services, etc. ─ have yet to be reported.
  • The expense records also indicate $928.44 were spent for “bulk food” purchases on flight.  Overall, during the trip, 192 meals were served for the 21 passengers on board.
  • The passenger manifests confirm the presence of Obama’s daughter’s, Malia and Sasha on the trip.  The two girls are listed as “Senior Staff.”   The manifests also list Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, and niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, as well Mrs. Obama’s makeup and hairstylist (Carl Ray and Johnny Wright).

The professed purpose of Michelle Obama’s trip to South Africa and Botswana was to encourage young people living in the two growing democracies to become involved in national affairs; and during her scheduled stops in Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa, and in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, the First Lady used the opportunity to speak on education, health, and wellness issues.  

The trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, plus a nonworking chance to send time with Nelson Mandela, a meeting that Mrs. Obama described as “surreal.”  The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.

While the aircraft and crew expenses are now known, as stated in an analysis by White House Dossier (the blog of White House reporter Keith Koffer, writer for CongressDaily, National Journal, Roll Call and POLITICO), certain expenses incurred during the trip are difficult to assess without examining the records ‒ such as Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staff, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in Africa.  

This trip was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration’s agenda in Africa.    

This certainly isn’t the first time Judicial Watch exposed the Obama’s frivolous spending on family social events.  We previously uncovered that the First Couple’s 2009 “date night” trip to New York for dinner and a Broadway show cost taxpayers over $11,000 in Secret Service costs alone.

Until next week…

Tom Fitton


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