Weekly Update: The Anti-Corruption Agenda
The First 100 Days – An Anti-Corruption Agenda
JW Asks to Court to Allow Public to See Videos of Depositions in the Clinton Email Case
Obama Family’s 2015 Hawaii Vacation Cost Taxpayers $4,823,206.88
Judicial Watch Work Applauded
At our special educational forum on December 6, expert panelists offered specific recommendations to the incoming Trump administration and the new Congress for rolling back corruption and ushering in a new era of transparency in these areas: Freedom of Information Act reform, election fraud, pay-for-play politics, IRS targeting, immigration and border enforcement, executive order overreach, and more. You can view the complete video of the event here.
We had a tremendous line up: Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), who is a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Edwin Meese III, former United States Attorney General and Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus at The Heritage Foundation; Mark Krikorian, Executive Director for the Center for Immigration Studies; Andrew McCarthy, Senior Fellow for the National Review Institute and former chief assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; and Ramona Cotca, senior attorney at Judicial Watch.
I moderated the panel and outlined the challenges for the new administration:
The big decision for President-elect Donald Trump now is what to do with the Clinton scandals. He promised to drain the swamp, and he’s coming into a city that has a lot of park rangers for that swamp so it’s going to be a challenge. And, of course, now he has a Congress that is controlled by his own party, and so independent observers are going to be concerned that one party isn’t going to be able to police itself well in terms of the legislative branch analyzing the executive branch.
There needs to be a serious investigation of what went on with the national security implications, the government records implications, the pay-for-play implications with the Clinton scandals. It wasn’t just about Hillary Clinton. It was about President Obama’s misconduct, the FBI’s misconduct, the Justice Department’s misconduct, the State Department’s misconduct. It’s also about crony capitalism and cronyism with our corporate culture, giving money, obviously, to the Clinton Foundation. And of course you had the foreign influence peddling that was going on as well.
Congressman Jordan spoke first and joined our call to continue the quest for real accountability:
And so our task in the 100 days, real simple: reform welfare, incentivize work, get rid of Obamacare, secure the border, and then focus on the things that are going to help our economy. But, ultimately, in the end, so many people were focused in this election on adherence to the rule of law and making sure the Justice Department is focused on justice and not on politics. And right now, we know it’s the opposite.
And so we have to continue the investigations because we’re either going to have equal treatment under law or we’re going to have a double standard. And that’s why we need to hold people accountable. [IRS Commissioner] John Koskinen needs to be held accountable for his conduct. He was brought in to clean up with the IRS and he hasn’t done so.
Jordan also announced the House Freedom Caucus planned to file a resolution today to force a vote on impeaching Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. “John Koskinen needs to be held accountable,” Jordan said. “Later today on the House floor, we will make the motion to impeach Mr. Koskinen.” Jordan and his conservative colleagues in the House did offer up the resolution to impeach Koskinen. True to form, the House Republican leadership opposed this and joined with Democrats to table the effort and send it back to committee to die. Only 72 members of the House voted to hold Koskinen accountable through impeachment.
My hero Ed Meese focused on the Justice Department:
There’s a lot to be done about the Justice Department, about the whole government. For example, the first threat to public safety that needs to be corrected is the attitude of this administration, which has been hostile to police throughout the entire eight years of Obama’s reign. And, as a result, the police officers feel both threatened and also disappointed.
The investigations of police officers and police departments by the so-called Civil Rights Division – I think one of the things that the president ought to do, the new attorney general is to take the investigations of police out of the Civil Rights Division entirely. That is, quite frankly, the worst cesspool of liberal lawyers in the entire government. And that’s something that absolutely has to happen.
Former prosecutor Andy McCarthy’s remarks reminded us just how much the rule of law suffered in the Obama administration:
We have to get back to the top two obligations of the executive branch, which are faithfully executing the laws and protecting the national security of the United States.
On the first, I was so glad that Congressman Jordan talked about Koskinen and the impeachment proceeding. I was actually proud to testify at that hearing. And impeachment, which gets everybody hackles up when the word gets mentioned, the framers thought impeachment was, as they put it, the indispensable tool that was given to Congress for purposes of reining in a rogue executive branch. And, you know, that was one of the main concerns that the framers had in drafting the constitution, to create a suitably, awesomely powerful presidency but yet be able to control it, particularly given the potential for illegality and damage done to the country.
The really tragic thing about the Justice Department in the last eight years is that we’ve gone from what we aspire the Justice Department to be, which is something that bolsters the rule of law, to what it’s become, which is something that realizes that the law can be used as a weapon and that the process is often the penalty.
Mark Krikorian, one of the leaders advocating for a rule of law approach on immigration, laid out an agenda to address the immigration crisis:
The contempt for the rule of law in this administration on immigration is just breathtaking. And there’s a lot of things that the new administration can do right away.
First is just changing the climate, because the assumption really under this administration is that immigration law is something to apologize for, that really everybody in the world is kind of allowed to come here. That’s the way these guys look at it, and that is obviously going to change at noon on the 20th of January. Specifically, there are the executive orders and memos and directives and edicts that the president has used to govern. And it isn’t just immigration. You saw it in EPA and health care and elsewhere, but with immigration specifically, this president basically has openly said, Congress won’t give me what I want so I’m just going to do it anyway.
In addition, Krikorian recommended immediate action in these areas:
- Turning off the flow of federal money to sanctuary cities and states;
- Curtailing the rampant release of criminal aliens;
- End the sloppy use of refugee law to admit people who aren’t truly refugees, and
- Tighten up the H!B program for foreign workers.
Our own Ramona Cotca reminded us of the unfinished business of the past few years, particularly with regard to our Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuits concerning Benghazi and the IRS.
We’re trying to get records on a particular subject, whether it’s IRS targeting or Benghazi. But then our suits spiraling into all this litigation that’s happening because of the agencies’ not being forthcoming to the courts, and to us as a plaintiff, in telling us what they’re doing to search for the records, do they have the records, are the records being destroyed while we are pending in litigation? So that’s been our experience so far.
We’re going to continue doing what we have been doing It will be interesting to see if the culture actually changes from the agencies and also the attorneys representing the agencies.
As these patriots spoke, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past eight years. Barack Obama was a disaster for the rule of law.
I want to be hopeful, but I’ll join Ramona in waiting to see what we get in the new administration. I encourage you to watch the full discussion here.
Judicial Watch is successful because our team is persistent and insistent in our anti-corruption work. Just this week, we filed a motion with a federal court to unseal the audiovisual recordings of the depositions of top Clinton aides and State Department officials. The depositions come in connection with our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that seeks records about the controversial employment status of Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to former Secretary Clinton (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:13-cv-01363)).
Our legal team argues that, “even though the election is over, the news media and the public continue to monitor and follow the proceedings in this case.” A coalition of 19 news media organizations is already on record with the Court supporting public access to the videos.
The motion is opposed by the State Department, as well as Abedin, former State Department Director of Information Resource Management of the Executive Secretariat John Bentel (who took the Fifth Amendment in response to questions at his deposition); Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff throughout her four years as secretary of state; and Bryan Pagliano, State Department Schedule C employee who has been reported to have serviced and maintained the server that hosted the “clintonemail.com” system. Pagliano also asserted his Fifth Amendment right in refusing to answer questions in his deposition in this case.
We respectfully remind the Court the following:
[T]he Court has stated, “The public has a right to know details related to the creation, purpose and use of the clintonemail.com system.”
Because the public has a right to know, the audiovisual recordings of the depositions in this case must be unsealed. The sole reason for sealing the recordings in the first place was to avoid their misuse during the 2016 campaign season. Now that the election is over that reason no longer exists.
For the full history of this case, click here.
The public and the media have a right to see these deposition videos. The courts and the continued work of Judicial Watch remains the best hope of bringing sunlight into the Clinton email issue and completing the public record.
The costs of Obama’s luxury travel keeping adding up for overburdened taxpayers. We have obtained records from the U.S. Secret Service revealing that its travel expenses for the First Family’s 2015 Hawaiian vacation cost taxpayers $1.2 million, which bring the total cost of the vacation trip to at least $4.8 million.
This was the Obamas’ eighth Hawaiian family vacation. The trip has become an annual event for the Obamas. To date, Obama’s and his family’s travel expenses total at least $85,029,819.
The records obtained by Judicial Watch for Obama’s Secret Service travel to Hawaii reveal the following expenses totaling $1,234,316.67:
- Hotel and lodging costs totaled $1,000,458.63
- The Secret Service spent $165,893.88 on car rentals.
- Air and rail expenses totaled $67,964.16.
Although the vacation officially lasted from December 18, 2015, to January 3, 2016, the Secret Service rented several Kailua homes for 19 nights, starting from December 16. The total for the rentals, located near the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay was $245,993.12.
According to bills obtained by Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Secret Service also paid for rooms at the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki and Golf Club. The Secret Service also reserved rooms at the Moana Surfrider resort on Waikiki Beach, and the Ala Moana Hotel, which cost a total of $40,249.48 and $671,895.99, respectively.
The Secret Service rented cars from Avis, Alamo, and Hertz – 103 cars for the two-week vacation, totaling $165,893.88 in taxpayer money.
Reportedly, the Obamas stayed at the Hale Reena Estate, which “rents for anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 a night, depending on the season.”
According to other news sources, the Obamas dined out frequently (and were guarded) at Hawaii’s finest restaurants:
- On Sunday, December 20, the Obamas had dinner at Morimoto, a celebrity chef-owned Asian-fusion restaurant,
- On Christmas Eve, they dined at MW Restaurant in Honolulu,
- On December 27, the first family took their dinner at “one of Hawaii’s finest restaurants,” Hoku’s at the Kahala Hotel and Resort,
- The next day, the Obamas dined at Alan Wong’s with friends,
- And on New Year’s Day, the Obamas dined at Halekulani, billed as one of the “top restaurants on Oahu.”
The president played seven rounds of golf, went hiking and snorkeling.
We filed a FOIA request for these documents in January 2016. The records were released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed on May 6, 2016, (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:16-cv-00863)). The lawsuit was filed after the Secret Service ignored a series of separate FOIA requests for costs associated with the president’s travel.
The Secret Service and the Air Force are being abused by unnecessary travel. “Unnecessary presidential travel for fundraising and luxury vacations on the taxpayers’ dime would be a good target for reform for the incoming Trump administration.
Let’s add that to the agenda for the first 100 days. To that end, it was good to see President-elect Trump questioning the multi-billion dollar costs of the planned replacements for the current planes used as Air Force One.
Is this it for Obama travel? Nope. According to the White House, President Obama will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Honolulu, Hawaii, on December 27, 2016.
I was honored to receive the Annie Taylor Award, which is awarded by our friends at the Horowitz Freedom Center to people “who have demonstrated unusual courage in adverse conditions and great danger.” It is a fun award, as Annie Taylor was the first person to survive going over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. You can watch my brief acceptance speech here. This excerpt gives you some flavor of what you can expect from Judicial Watch over the next few months:
We did all this great work on the emails and got these emails out that Mrs. Clinton didn’t want you to see. People ask, “What was she hiding?” She was hiding all of them. She didn’t want you to see that she told her daughter, an hour after she told America that it was a video, that it was Al Qaida behind Benghazi. That’s what she didn’t want you to see. She didn’t want you to see the pay-for-play that was going on at the Foundation, and our work changed history. We were not involved directly in the campaign. We can’t do that. We’re a 501(c)(3). But we don’t think politics should intrude upon the rule of law, and just because she’s running for President doesn’t make her immune to the rule of law. And Judicial Watch got all this information out there, and the FBI and the Justice Department didn’t want to do anything. Congress really didn’t want to do anything, but the American people did something. They sure did something, and they made their decision. They convened the grand jury for us, at least electorally, on Election Day, and now there’s going to be a terrible choice for the president to make: whether to prosecute the person he ran against. And I hope and I expect he resists the siren song of the establishment to move on.
Let me say this, though. It’s not just about Hillary Clinton. The email scandal, the pay-for-play scandals, it’s not a Clinton scandal. It’s an Obama scandal. It’s a State Department scandal. It’s a Justice Department scandal. It’s an FBI scandal. It’s a shady corporation scandal. It’s foreign potentate scandal. You name it, the whole corrupt system that is at issue with the Clinton email and the Clinton Foundation issue. So, it is about the most-important thing the incoming president can do. So that’s something he needs to do, and if we have to press him to do that, that’s fine, and I appreciate — the General is too kind in his highlighting my work here, and that’s why I’m going to feel terrible when we have to sue the Trump administration to get documents, because we will. We’ll be there to support you if you do the right thing, but we’ll sue you if you do the wrong thing. Because Donald Trump, despite the attacks in the media, will have plenty of people tell him how great he is, but we need honest brokers out there, independent of party, who are just going to call it like we see it.
Until next week,