Testimony FOIA Tom Fitton Judicial Watch
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Date Created:June 5, 2015
Date Uploaded to the Library:June 05, 2015
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Opening Statement Tom Fitton, President Judicial Watch Hearing the House Committee Oversight and Government Reform Ensuring Transparency through the Freedom Information Act (FOIA), Part June 2015 2154 Rayburn House Office Building Good morning, Tom Fitton, president Judicial Watch. Judicial Watch conservative, non-partisan educational foundation dedicated promoting transparency, accountability and integrity government, politics and the law. are the nations largest and most effective government watchdog group. Judicial Watch is, without doubt, the most active Freedom Information Act (FOIA) requestor and litigator operating today. Thank you, Chairman Chaffetz and Congressman Cummings for allowing testify this important topic. Judicial Watch used the open records laws root out corruption the Clinton administration and take the Bush administrations penchant for improper secrecy. Founded 1994, Judicial Watch has over 21years experience using FOIA advance the public interest. Our government bigger than ever, and also the most secretive recent memory. President Obama promised the most transparent administration history, but federal agencies are often black holes terms disclosure. previously testified about this president remarkable assertions secrecy over White House visitor logs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac documents, and even the photos the dead Osama bin Laden. (The administration asserted secrecy over the photos not upset Qaeda!) have filed nearly 3,000 FOIA requests with the Obama administration, and our staff attorneys have been forced file nearly 225 FOIA lawsuits federal court against this administration. Most these lawsuits are filed just get yes answer from the administration. Administratively, agencies have built additional hurdles and stonewalled even the most basic FOIA requests. The Obama administration casual law-breaking when comes FOIA national disgrace and shows contempt for the American people right know what their government doing. Both the left and right agree that, major transparency issues, the Obama administration has come down the side secrecy. The Founding Fathers took transparency seriously. James Madison wrote, popular government without popular information, the means acquiring it, but prologue Farce Tragedy, perhaps both. Unfortunately, both tragedy and farce today but Thomas Jefferson said, are guard against ignorance and remain free, the responsibility every American informed. Transparency about self-government. don know what the government doing, how that self-government? Frankly, how that even republic? Congressional oversight sorely lacking lacking all fronts. Congress like fire department that shows after your house burns down and shouts fire. Even President Obama, flailing for excuse over his IRS massive oppression his political opponents, suggested that the government was too big and had way effectively monitoring his own agencies. And, too often, the fourth estate acts rep for big government and fails the hard work keeping watch government waste, fraud and abuse. And even under FOIA law, the courts have deferred the whims the executive branch and have applied FOIA way that makes more difficult for the American people find out how their tax dollars are being used misused. Now, this has all led the transparency crisis here D.C. Never our history has much money been spent with little accountability. Frankly, all Congress should focus government reform and oversight, instead assigning one two committees. Americans are rightly worried they are losing their country. have the forms democracy elections, campaigns, votes, political fundraising, etc. but when Congress authorizes $1.5 trillion spending after just three days debate, and when the executive branch won tell you much unless you willing make federal court case out issue, that isn democracy, and isn self-government. But there way forward out the transparency and corruption crisis. Judicial Watch shows that 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. Judicial Watch has succeeded uncovering documents that had been denied Congress. Benghazi, has been little over year since Judicial Watch uncovered newly declassified email showing thenWhite 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-dozen congressional committees had been made look foolish. direct result this disclosure, Speaker Boehner reversed his opposition Select Committee Benghazi. The Select Committee, now run Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), doesn seem succeeding, put charitably, getting answers accountability. And Judicial Watch continues the go-to source Benghazi facts continue uncover revelation after revelation about the Benghazi terrorist attack. These revelations have not come easily and have only occurred through multiple federal lawsuits and court orders requiring the administration comply with FOIA. Our document disclosures have led questions about criminal violations obstruction and perjury laws top officials this administration. With respect the 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 actually necessarily lost. 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. Again, Congress has seemed have lost interest the IRS scandal, but continues the job oversight and remains the key vehicle for revelations about the continuing abuse the IRS. And then have perhaps one the most egregious violations federal transparency law since FOIA was passed nearly years ago. March 2015, The New York Times reported thenSecretary Clinton used least one non- state.gov email account conduct official government business during her entire tenure the secretary state. There are least lawsuits, which are active federal court, and about 160 Judicial Watch Freedom Information Act (FOIA) requests that could affected Mrs. Clinton and her staff use secret email accounts conduct official government business. can tell you that dismissed several lawsuits based lies the State Department that searched all Hillary Clinton emails and couldn find anything relevant our requests. Judicial Watch various FOIA lawsuits, our lawyers have informed attorneys for the Obama administration that Hillary Clinton and any other secret accounts used State employees should secured, recovered and searched. Judicial Watch litigation against the State Department has already exposed key documents about both the Benghazi (as discussed above) and Clinton cash scandals. Indeed, with Lois Lerner emails, our litigation forced the State Department publicly disclose Hillary Clinton secret email accounts. recent federal court filing point out: November 12, 2014, the State Department released its production responsive, non-exempt, records that Judicial Watch understood complete. its letter, the Department stated that located four (4) documents result its search the Office the Secretary December 2014, the State Department produced its draft Vaughn index pursuant the Court September 15, 2014 Order both instances, the State Department omitted that its search did not include Secretary Clinton emails the Office the Secretary. More egregiously, the State Department omitted that Secretary Clinton had apparently just turned over 55,000 pages her agency emails that had not been searched included the Department draft Vaughn index These omissions are material and were apparently made the process settlement discussions induce dismissal. supplemental search and document production due April 2015 solely because Judicial Watch requested search affidavits, surprised that that the State Department located only four responsive records none which are Secretary Clinton emails and all which were previously produced another litigation Judicial Watch has reason believe that the State Department would have ever disclosed that its search was compromised had Judicial Watch not asked for search affidavits when reviewed the draft Vaughn index and limited production. statement the State Department February 2015, status report was the first notice the public and the court that other records had not been searched: [The State Department] has discovered that additional searches for documents potentially responsive the FOIA must conducted. The State Department early response the scandal has not been encouraging. While new records will searched response future FOIA requests, there are plans back and review the accuracy what has already been produced response FOIA, Marie Harf, State Department spokeswoman has said. The State Department obligated secure the accounts soon possible protect classified materials, retrieve any lost data, protect other federal records, and search records required court orders our various FOIA lawsuits, and response congressional subpoenas, etc. Rather than allowing Hillary Clinton campaign advisers review email and release material the government, the agency should assert its ownership, secure the material and prohibit private parties from illicitly reviewing potentially classified and other sensitive material. This the basis for new federal lawsuit, filed last week, against Secretary State John Kerry. Kerry predecessor the State Department, former-Secretary Clinton, conducted official government business using secret, unsecured email server and email accounts. Her top aides and advisors also used non- state.gov email accounts conduct official business. 2014, Clinton unilaterally determined which her emails were official government records and, December 2014, returned least portion these public records many 55,000 pages records the State Department. the lawsuit, Judicial Watch argues the following: The Clinton emails are agency records subject the [Federal Records Act (FRA)] and the State Department failure retain, manage, and search these agency records has compromised the Department retention records that concern relate Secretary Clinton and other high level State Department officials who used non state.gov email addresses. The Federal Records Act stipulates: Agencies may only dispose records terms approved the Archivist the United States, who head the National Archives and Records Administration NARA This process the exclusive procedure which all federal records may disposed destroyed. The FRA imposes direct responsibility agency head take steps recover any records unlawfully removed. April 30, 2015, Judicial Watch sent letter Kerry notifying him the unlawful removal the Clinton emails and requesting that initiate enforcement action pursuant the FRA, including working through the attorney general recover the emails. Patrick Kennedy, under secretary state for management, responded Secretary Kerry behalf May 14. The letter ignored Judicial Watch demands that the secretary comply with the FRA. Kerry actions represent abuse discretion that has led the continued withholding official government records from the American people. clear, Mrs. Clinton actions, and maybe the actions other administration officials, require serious and independent criminal investigation. The courts are taking notice. Last month, federal court judge did something had never seen before U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton reopened Judicial Watch Freedom Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit because the new evidence Hillary Clinton hidden emails. the meantime, Judicial Watch filed eight lawsuits (including six one day) against the Obama administration get answers the Hillary Clinton email scandal. Many, including members both parties Congress, ask how that Judicial Watch gets documents that Congress can get even under subpoena. The easy answer that FOIA straightforward tool that quickly gives JW, 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 politicized Justice Department. The Fast and Furious scandal perfect example. Eric Holder was charged with contempt Congress, and President Obama made remarkable assertion executive privilege protect his attorney general and thwart Congress. Rather than enforce the contempt charge, 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, get many the documents had been seeking. course, the administration were transparent all this wouldn matter. Truth fears inquiry. Crafty, corrupt politicians realize that transparency and accountability hand-in-hand. the Obama administration truly had nothing hide, would not such extraordinary lengths keep information from the public. commitment transparency must cut across partisan lines. are please see renewed congressional interest reforming FOIA. only ask that such reforms significant and provide more access information 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 must follow. Founding Father John Adams was keenly aware the relationship between secrecy and corruption --- and the preservation liberty: Liberty cannot preserved without general knowledge among the people, who have right, from the frame their nature, knowledge, their great Creator, who does nothing vain, has given them understandings, and desire know; but besides this, they have right, indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right that most dreaded and envied kind knowledge; mean, the characters and conduct their rulers. Thank you.