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Judicial Watch • Fitton Testimony before House Committee OGR

Fitton Testimony before House Committee OGR

Fitton Testimony before House Committee OGR

Page 1: Fitton Testimony before House Committee OGR

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Date Created:March 23, 2017

Date Uploaded to the Library:March 30, 2017

Tags:Smithsonian, OGR, freddie, Fannie, transparency, testimony, fitton, Administration, cfpb, Freedom, Congress, documents, justice, Hillary Clinton, Benghazi, government, president, clinton, Obama, State Department, White House, committee, federal, records, FOIA, department, united, IRS


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Written Statement
Tom Fitton, President
Judicial Watch
Public Hearing
Committee Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House Representatives
Concerning
Legislative Proposals for Fostering Transparency
Thursday, March 23, 2017
10:30
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.
Good morning, name Tom Fitton, President Judicial Watch. Thank you,
Chairman Chaffetz and Congressman Cummings for allowing testify the very
important topic this hearing: Legislative Proposals for Fostering Transparency.
Judicial Watch conservative, non-partisan, educational foundation dedicated
promoting transparency, accountability and integrity government, politics and the law.
Our motto is, Because one above the law! are the nations largest and most
effective government watchdog group.
Founded 1994, Judicial Watch has almost quarter-century worth experience
using the Freedom Information Act (FOIA) advance the public interest, and
come before you today supporting congressional action augment its strengths and
mitigate its weaknesses.
Judicial Watch is, without doubt, the most active FOIA requestor and litigator operating
today. During the Obama administration, Judicial Watch worked overtime, making
FOIA requests and when the administration ignored the requests and obstructed access public records filing FOIA lawsuits force executive agencies comply with this
vital open-records law.
Our nation faces transparency crisis. The United States government bigger than ever
and also the most secretive recent memory. frank, the Obama administration
was enemy transparency. President Obama promised the most transparent
administration history, but federal agencies turned into black holes terms
disclosure.
The Obama administration casual law breaking, especially its defend everything
approach the Clinton email scandal, President Obama real legacy transparency.
Judicial Watch filed nearly 3,000 FOIA requests with the Obama administration. And,
our staff attorneys were forced file nearly 200 FOIA lawsuits federal court against
that administration. Most these lawsuits were filed just get yes answer
from the administration.
There way forward out the D.C. transparency and corruption crisis but requires
action the part committed Congress pave the way for outside watchdogs like
Judicial Watch and activist citizens investigate and expose corruption and malfeasance
within the government. Judicial Watch shows that even hostile political
environment, one citizen group, using the Freedom Information Act and independent
oversight can help the American people bring their government back down earth and
under control. How much more effective would only Congress were enact
further transparency reform.
Despite the culture secrecy the modern administrative state, Judicial Watch has
frequently succeeded prying loose documents that had been denied even Congress.
For example, right after the Benghazi terrorist attack occurred, Judicial Watch uncovered newly declassified email showing then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications
Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials not
intelligence officials putting out the lie that the Benghazi attack was rooted
Internet video, and not failure policy. These documents had been withheld from
Congress and half-a-dozen congressional committees had been made look very
foolish indeed. direct result this disclosure, then-Speaker Boehner reversed his
opposition convening Select Committee Benghazi.
Even with Select Committee investigation, Judicial Watch became the go-to source
Benghazi facts continued through the courts uncover revelation after revelation
about the Benghazi terrorist attack and the Obama administration efforts cover the
details.
Revelations such those managed uncover Benghazi did not come easy; they
came about through multiple federal lawsuits and court orders requiring the
administration comply with FOIA. But, our efforts did bear fruit.
Judicial Watch document disclosures over the years have led questions about criminal
violations, obstruction justice, and perjury top officials the last administration.
For example, with respect the Obama IRS scandal, Judicial Watch litigation forced the
agency admit that Lois Lerner emails were supposedly lost. And was Judicial Watch
FOIA litigation that forced the IRS admit that her emails were not necessarily lost.
And, only Judicial Watch uncovered the troubling revelation that the Obama IRS and
Justice Department were collaborating prosecuting the same groups that the IRS had
lawlessly suppressed. While Congress seems have lost interest the IRS scandal,
Judicial Watch continues the job oversight and investigation, and remain the
key vehicle for revelations about the continuing law breaking and abuse power the
IRS.
Just two weeks ago, for instance, after stonewalling and slow walking FOIA requests and
lawsuits for years, the IRS finally admitted the court that the tax agency needs
search 6,924 previously unreported documents documents they sat for entire year, election year, might add response 2015 Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit over
IRS targeting conservative groups. Again, apparently, Judicial Watch has pry loose
documents not provided Congress these newly identified records are presumably not
records that were contained the Congressional Database, which the IRS created
2013 house records responsive congressional inquiries into the IRS scandal. The
IRS finally agreed begin producing documents March but refused provide
timetable for completion the review.
And then have perhaps one the most egregious violations federal transparency
law since FOIA was passed nearly years ago: the Hillary Clinton email scandals.
Before the revelation The New York Times March 2015 that then-Secretary
Clinton used least one non- state.gov email account conduct official government
business during her entire tenure the Secretary State, Judicial Watch had filed six
FOIA lawsuits seeking Clinton email ethics matters and the Benghazi terrorist
attack. After the revelation, filed some lawsuits having directly indirectly
with Clinton emails. Today, there are least lawsuits, which are active
federal court, and upwards 200 Judicial Watch FOIA requests that could affected
Mrs. Clinton and her staff use secret email accounts conduct official government
business. Judicial Watch litigation against the State Department exposed key
documents about both Benghazi and the Clinton pay-to-play cash scandals. also must tell you that dismissed several lawsuits based lies the State
Department that had searched all Hillary Clinton emails and couldn find
anything. two cases, federal judges actually reopened closed FOIA lawsuits
practically unheard after came light that information had been unlawfully
withheld from Judicial Watch and the court. two instances, federal judges also granted
Judicial Watch discovery cases concerning Clinton emails because appeared there
had been government misconduct the handling the FOIA requests.
Indeed, with Lois Lerner emails, our litigation forced the State Department
publicly disclose Hillary Clinton secret email accounts. The rest history.
Before suggesting ideas for fostering greater transparency government, let reflect
for just couple minutes about what know works and doesn work.
Many people ask, including members both parties Congress, how Judicial
Watch gets documents and forces action that Congress can get even under subpoena?
The easy answer that FOIA straightforward tool, for all its flaws, that quickly gives
Judicial Watch, other media, and citizens access the federal courts order ensure
compliance with lawful records requests.
Congressional investigations, even with subpoenas, are political nature and require,
under the current practice, effective enforcement court with the cooperation
conflicted Justice Department.
The Fast and Furious scandal perfect example this issue. Obama Attorney General
Eric Holder was held contempt Congress, and response, President Obama made
remarkable assertion executive privilege protect his attorney general and thwart
Congress. Rather than enforcing the contempt citation, the Justice Department ignored it.
Only after Judicial Watch secured key court victories separately against the Justice
Department did Congress, after two years getting nowhere, obtain many the
documents had been seeking. time put end the obsessive and destructive secrecy government. But,
successful, commitment transparency and openness must cut across partisan lines.
Judicial Watch has urged President Trump commit transparency revolution, and
today ask the Congress join that transparency revolution reforming FOIA and
giving private citizens and groups like stronger and better tools hold our
government account. are pleased see renewed congressional interest reforming FOIA. ask only
that such reforms real, significant, and provide greater access information for the
American people. And speaking FOIA reform, Congress should apply the freedom
information concept itself and the courts, the two branches the federal government
exempt from the transparency laws that presidents and executive agencies must follow.
Certainly, the least, the administrative activities Congress and the federal courts
should subject the same transparency rules the Executive Branch. the meantime, Judicial Watch interested two proposals for increased transparency
with respect Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and the Smithsonian institution.
Judicial Watch has tried investigate scandals behind the collapse Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac and their role helping trigger the global financial and related housing
crises. key component this investigation involved the role political corruption
played the failure adequate congressional oversight and the catastrophic collapse these government-sponsored enterprises 2008.
That why filed Freedom Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch,
Inc. U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency, USDC Case No. 9-1537;
http://www.judicialwatch.org/judicial-watch-v-u-s-federal-housing-finance-agency)
against the Obama administration get hold documents related Fannies and
Freddies campaign contributions.
Since American taxpayers are the hook for trillions dollars, potentially
including already $187 billion alone for Fannie and Freddie, deserve know how
and why this financial collapse occurred and who Washington, D.C.,
responsible.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration disagreed.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the agency responsible for Fannie
Mae and Freddie Mac, responded our FOIA lawsuit telling that all the
documents seek are not subject FOIA.
Here the exact language the Obama agency used its court filing
(http://www.judicialwatch.org/files/documents/2010/jw-v-fhfadefmem4sj- 01292010.pdf):
...Any records created held the custody the Enterprises (Fannie Mae
and Freddie Mac) reflecting their political campaign contributions policies,
stipulations and requirements concerning campaign contributions necessarily
are private corporate documents. They are not agency records subject
disclosure under FOIA.
And here why the Obama administration reasoning flat-out wrong, detailed court motion (http://www.judicialwatch.org/files/documents/2010/jw-fhfaopp2sj-cm4sj-03052010.pdf) our lawyers filed response (on March 2010): issue this Freedom Information Act FOIA lawsuit whether FHFA,
the federal agency that has custody and control the records Federal
National Mortgage Association Fannie Mae and Federal Home Loan
Mortgage Company Freddie Mac must comply with FOIA request for
records relating those previously independent entities. Until they were seized FHFA September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were private
corporations with independent directors, officers, and shareholders. Since that
time, FHFA, federal agency subject FOIA, has assumed full legal custody
and control the records these previously independent entities. Hence, these
records are subject FOIA like any other agency records.
Unfortunately, the courts have ruled (Judicial Watch, Inc. FHFA, 646 F.3d 924 (D.C.
Cir. 2011)) that long these records are not used, the records are not subject
FOIA.
The decision keep these Fannie/Freddie records secret the most significant antitransparency decision the Obama administration. You can obtain documents from the
Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other secretive
government agencies that deal with life-and-death matters. But not one document from
the government Fannie and Freddie mortgage monsters would ever disclosed under the
freedom information law that governs most every other executive branch agency.
Legislation that would address this Fannie/Freddie transparency gap long overdue.
(Along with FOIA, the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) was passed
Congress shed light federal advisory committees. Among other topics, has
special emphasis open meetings, chartering, public involvement, and
reporting. Because the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established
the Federal Reserve System, the CFPB exempt from FACA even though regularly
uses and relies four advisory boards and councils. Bills have been introduced
previous sessions, and believe such legislation should reintroduced. Even though
the CFPB claims complies with the spirit FACA, without statutory fix, there
available mechanism for Judicial Watch, other good government groups, and the public insure compliance.)
Then there the issue the Smithsonian Institution, another taxpayer-funded entity that not subject FOIA. The Smithsonian, which operates trust, received $840 million taxpayer funds FY2016. The Institution, established 1846, governed board regents which, law, composed the vice president the United States, the chief
justice the United States, three members the Senate, three members the House
Representatives and nine citizen members (who are approved Congress and the
President). The chief justice the United States has traditionally served chancellor
the Smithsonian.
Most the Smithsonian permanent staff are federal employees and its Secretary
appointed public officials and other government appointees.
Courts have ruled that the Freedom Information Act doesn apply the Smithsonian. result, Americans must rely voluntary disclosures this government institution.
Judicial Watch, for instance, trying without success obtain documents from the
Smithsonian about its decision-making regarding the inclusion Justice Clarence
Thomas its African American Museum.
Rather than relying the kindness strangers find out how billions tax dollars
are spent, Congress would well consider Delegate Holmes Norton bill apply
FOIA explicitly the Smithsonian Institution.
Thank you. happy answer any questions the committee may have.
###