(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on September 5, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, against the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking access to all records of communications between DOJ and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform relating to settlement discussions in the Committee’s 2012 contempt of Congress lawsuit against Attorney General Eric Holder. The contempt citation stemmed from Holder’s refusal to turn over documents to Congress related to the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal (Judicial Watch v. DOJ (No. 1:13-cv-01344)).
Judicial Watch filed the FOIA lawsuit as part of its continuing investigation of the Fast and Furious scandal, where the Obama administration allowed weapons to “walk” across the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels directly resulting in the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and countless Mexican citizens. On August 13, 2012, the House Oversight Committee sued Holder to enforce subpoenas in its probe of the Fast and Furious operation. On March 18, 2013, after a breakdown of settlement talks between the Committee and DOJ, a federal judge ordered the two sides to enter into mediation.
Judicial Watch now seeks access to the following records pursuant to its original FOIA request submitted on March 20, 2013:
Any and all records of communications, correspondence, and contacts between the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concerning or relating to a settlement in Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder, 1:12-cv-01332, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). Such records include, but are not limited to, records of the settlement discussion themselves. The timeframe for this request is October 1, 2012 to March 20, 2013.
By a letter dated May 3, 2013, the Civil Division of DOJ informed Judicial Watch that it would refuse to comply with the FOIA request citing “among other things, court-imposed non-disclosure requirements” involving the Oversight Committee contempt citation and resulting settlement talks. The DOJ response did not indicate whether a search for responsive records had been undertaken, how many responsive records were being withheld, or under which FOIA exemption the records were being withheld. By a letter on May 20, 2013, Judicial Watch appealed the Civil Division’s determination.
On June 19, 2013, the DOJ Office of Information Policy, again without identifying any FOIA exemption, affirmed the Civil Division’s action, stating, “Please be advised that the records responsive to your request are subject to court-imposed, non-disclosure requirements under the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Therefore, in this instance, the Civil Division lacks the discretion to consider this information for release to you.”
In its September 5 FOIA lawsuit, Judicial Watch asked the District Court to order the DOJ to comply with FOIA law by conducting a search for all responsive records, producing “any and all non-exempt records,” and enjoining the DOJ from continuing to withhold all non-exempt records.
This is not the first lawsuit Judicial Watch has filed against the Obama administration seeking records related to the Fast and Furious scandal. On October 11, 2011, the organization sued the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to obtain Fast and Furious records, including all records submitted to the House Committee on Oversight. On September 13, 2012, it filed a lawsuit against the DOJ after the agency denied its October 2011 FOIA request for records regarding President Obama’s claim of executive privilege after Holder’s refusal to produce records for the House Oversight Committee. On February 15, 2013, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia John Bates stayed that FOIA lawsuit, relying, in part, upon the DOJ’s assertion that the case moving forward would interfere with the ongoing settlement discussions between the DOJ and the Oversight Committee. After waiting for nearly seven months, Judicial Watch is now suing for the records of those purported settlement discussions.
“Eric Holder is using his legal battle with Congress to keep the American people from knowing the full truth about the Obama administration’s Fast and Furious killings and lies,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And yet, Eric Holder has been dragging out the ‘settlement’ talks to the point where Congress has called them a ‘waste of everyone’s time.’ The Obama gang would rather stall for time than defend the Obama’s administration secretive claims of executive privilege on Fast and Furious in court.”