Emails: Pentagon Colludes with Congressional Offices before Releasing Documents on Congressional Military Travel
JULY 01, 2010
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has uncovered emails from the Department of Defense (DOD) that indicate the Pentagon worked hand-in-hand with congressional offices prior to releasing documents regarding congressional military travel under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These “heads up” emails involved FOIA requests filed by Judicial Watch, The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call, among other organizations, related to the use of military aircraft by a number of congressional members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Pentagon emails uncovered by Judicial Watch provided advanced notification to congressional offices regarding which organizations issued FOIA requests, when documents would be released and, in many cases, the emails included the actual documents to be released as attachments. Moreover, the emails, primarily sent from the DOD’s Office of General Counsel, also indicate that Pentagon staff contacted congressional offices by phone.
The following is an excerpt from a November 17, 2009, Pentagon email to Wyndee Parker, National Security Advisor to Speaker Pelosi, related to a Judicial Watch FOIA request:
Subject: Judicial Watch FOIA to DoD re: Speaker Travel
We are preparing a release responsive to the Judicial Watch FOIA request attached.
I have put all Speaker Pelosi related travel docs on a CD and will send this in the LA [Legislative Affairs] run today or tomorrow
The package will be under your name and will go to H232 if that works. Please let me know.
As always, the documents are for your office use only as there may be additional redactions made.
Please call if you have any questions.
In some cases, the Pentagon provided assurances to congressional staffers regarding whether or not the documents released contained sensitive information. For example, in a December 9, 2009, email to Mark Lopez, Chief of Staff for Congressman Peter Visclosky (D-IN), the DOD staffer writes: “CQ appears to be trolling for something to write re: your boss. I do not see much here, but I don’t know the reporter’s agenda. There will be additional releases on this request. I will give you a heads up on those too.” Another Pentagon staffer notes in a November 9, 2009, email to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “I don’t find any of the documents especially newsworthy, but wanted you to have them before they go out.”
Additional email correspondence from senior staff with the House Intelligence Committee voiced objections to the Pentagon’s refusal to redact the names of congressional staffers from documents released and requested the opportunity to review redacted material before release. It looks as if, in some cases, documents on military junkets were released to individual members of Congress months before they were released to the public.
“Why is the Pentagon colluding with congressional offices on FOIA requests? There is absolutely no reason why politicians should have the ability to preview FOIA documents before they are released to the American people. These insider notification emails to Congress are inappropriate and should be stopped immediately,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Judicial Watch obtained these Pentagon emails as part of its comprehensive investigation of congressional military travel. Previously, Judicial Watch uncovered internal Pentagon email correspondence detailing attempts by Pentagon staff to accommodate Pelosi’s numerous requests for military escorts and military aircraft as well as the speaker’s last minute cancellations and changes. Judicial Watch also uncovered documents indicating that House Speaker Pelosi’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period, including $101,429 for in-flight expenses.