District Court Rules against Secret Service in Judicial Watch’s Lawsuit to Obtain Logs About Jack Abramoff’s White House Visits
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the U.S. Secret Service on September 30th in Judicial Watch’s lawsuit to obtain visitor logs detailing corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s visits to the White House. The Court rejected the Secret Service’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and instead ordered the agency to finish processing Judicial Watch’s open records requests and provide all non-exempt records within 20 days of the court order (Judicial Watch, Inc. v The United States Secret Service, (Civil Action No. 1:06-cv-00310)).
The U.S. District Court ruled that the Secret Service had violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not adequately searching certain White House visitor records that may contain information about Abramoff. Moreover, the Court also rejected all claims of exemption asserted by the Secret Service related to additional records uncovered by the agency subsequent to the filing of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit. The Secret Service had argued these additional visitor records, called “Sensitive Security Records,” were so secret that it could “neither confirm nor deny” their existence. The court rejected this argument.
“The Court finds that [The Secret Service] has not made a reasonable search and has not convincingly shown that SSRs [Sensitive Security Records] fall within the claimed exemptions,” stated Judge Royce C. Lamberth in his opinion. “[The Secret Service] must move forward in full compliance with [Judicial Watch’s] FOIA request.”
On January 20, 2006, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the Secret Service seeking all White House visitor logs from January 1, 2001, reflecting the entry and exit of Abramoff from the White House: “The public deserves to know the level of contact that Mr. Abramoff had with the White House, which would be accomplished by full disclosure of the dates and times that Abramoff entered and exited the White House for policy related meetings,” Judicial Watch argued in its initial FOIA request. After the Secret Service failed to respond, Judicial Watch filed lawsuits on February 22, 2006, and April 25, 2006, to force compliance. The Secret Service provided incomplete non-official records in response to a previous court order, forcing Judicial Watch to continue to battle the agency in court.
“The court has obviously had enough of the gamesmanship by the Secret Service,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling. This is a tremendous victory for transparency in government. In this case we hope the Bush administration stops trying to evade FOIA law.”