Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice - Pardongate
In the last day of his presidency, Bill Clinton granted 140 pardons and commuted 36 sentences (a scandal that came to be known as Pardongate), many of them to convicted felons who had paid large fees to Clinton associates. Like many of Clinton’s actions, these pardons raised ethical concerns and added to the controversies surrounding the Clinton Presidency and Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign.While this case began as an investigation into corruption, it has also become a fight against government secrecy. Judicial Watch litigated for four years in an effort to force the Bush Department of Justice to release the thousands of pardon documents. To date, the Department of Justice, despite a court order, has released only a mere fraction of the documents and those released have been completely redacted.This fight for information began on January 29, 2001 when Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request for the Clinton pardon documents. When the DOJ failed to deliver the documents, Judicial Watch filed suit.The Bush Administration, not interested in pursuing an investigation of the Clinton pardons, asserted executive privilege.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for summary judgment to the Department of Justice and Judicial Watch appealed. On January 21, 2004, just short of three years since the original FOIA filing, Judicial Watch argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In May 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the Bush Administration’s claim of presidential communications privileges regarding the Justice Department documents “…would be both contrary to executive privilege precedent and considerably undermine the purposes or FOIA to foster openness and accountability in government.” Furthermore, the Court added that such an extension “…would have far-reaching implications for the entire executive branch that would seriously impede the operation and scope of FOIA.” (View the Court’s decision).
In May 2005, in a move contemptuous of the Court’s order, the U.S. Department of Justice defied the ruling and produced 915 blacked-out pages citing the “deliberative process” and other exemptions.
CASE STATUS In 2006, Judicial Watch filed a Motion for Award for Attorneys Fees and Expenses. In September, a stipulation agreeing to $25,000 was filed and Judicial Watch withdrew the Motion. Judicial Watch recieved payment on November 21, 2006.
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