Weekly Update: Judicial Watch Goes to Congress and the White House
JW Testifies to House Oversight Committee, Visits WH
New Clinton Emails Reveal More Mishandling of Classified Information, Favors for Donors
Protecting Election Integrity in North Carolina Supreme Court Battle
It was my privilege to testify last week on behalf of Judicial Watch before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which was meeting to hear testimony on several bills that would improve government transparency. The complete hearing is available here.
You can read all of my prepared remarks here. But let me share with you a few key parts of my testimony.
The Enemy of Transparency – “Our nation faces a transparency crisis. The United States government is bigger than ever and also the most secretive in recent memory. To be frank, the Obama Administration was an enemy of transparency. President Obama promised the most transparent administration in history, but federal agencies turned into black holes in terms of disclosure.”
The Benghazi Lie – “Right after the Benghazi terrorist attack occurred, Judicial Watch uncovered a newly declassified email showing then-White 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 in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” These documents had been withheld from Congress and half-a-dozen or so congressional committees had been made to look very foolish indeed. As a direct result of this disclosure, then-Speaker Boehner reversed his opposition to convening a Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Obama IRS – “With respect to the Obama IRS scandal, Judicial Watch litigation forced the agency to admit that Lois Lerner emails were supposedly lost. And it was Judicial Watch FOIA litigation that forced the IRS to admit that her emails were not necessarily lost. And, only Judicial Watch uncovered the troubling revelation that the Obama IRS and Justice Department were collaborating on prosecuting the same groups that the IRS had lawlessly suppressed. While Congress seems to have lost interest in the IRS scandal, Judicial Watch continues to do the job of oversight and investigation, and we remain the key vehicle for revelations about the continuing law breaking and abuse of power by the IRS.”
(I was questioned about some new Judicial Watch IRS disclosures. The questioning by, Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), focused on whether Obama IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was truthful to Congress. You can see this specific line of questioning here.)
The Clinton Scandal – “And then we have perhaps one of the most egregious violations of federal transparency law since FOIA was passed nearly 50 years ago: the Hillary Clinton email scandals. Before the revelation by The New York Times on March 2, 2015 that then-Secretary Clinton used at least one non- “state.gov” email account to conduct official government business during her entire tenure as the Secretary of State, Judicial Watch had filed six FOIA lawsuits seeking Clinton’s email on ethics matters and the Benghazi terrorist attack. After the revelation, JW filed some 15 lawsuits having to do directly or indirectly with Clinton’s emails. Today, there are at least 20 lawsuits, 19 of which are active in federal court, and upwards of 200 Judicial Watch FOIA requests that could be affected by Mrs. Clinton and her staff’s use of secret email accounts to conduct official government business. Judicial Watch’s litigation against the State Department exposed key documents about both Benghazi and the Clinton pay-to-play cash scandals.”
The Gun Runners – “Congressional investigations, even with subpoenas, are political by nature and require, under the current practice, effective enforcement in court with the cooperation of a conflicted Justice Department. The Fast and Furious scandal is a perfect example of this issue. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress, and in response, President Obama made a remarkable assertion of executive privilege to protect his attorney general and thwart Congress. Rather than enforcing the contempt citation, the Justice Department ignored it. Only after Judicial Watch secured key court victories separately against the Justice Department did Congress, after two years of getting nowhere, obtain many of the documents it had been seeking.”
I concluded my remarks to the committee by urging an expansion of FOIA:
“We are pleased to see renewed congressional interest in reforming FOIA. We ask only that such reforms be real, be significant, and provide greater access to information for the American people. And speaking of FOIA reform, Congress should apply the freedom of information concept to itself and the courts, the two branches of the federal government exempt from the transparency laws that presidents and executive agencies must follow. Certainly, in the least, the administrative activities of Congress and the federal courts should be subject to the same transparency rules as the Executive Branch.”
The FOIA has been an extraordinarily effective piece of legislation, and we celebrated its 50th birthday last year when it was improved. However, as you can see, there are still significant pockets of darkness luxuriating in their immunity in Washington.
Separately, I was able to make our case for transparency to top administration officials in a meeting this week with other conservatives at the White House. As The New York Times reported:
Thomas Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch — a conservative legal advocacy group that successfully sued the Obama administration for the release of Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails — made a pointed pitch for the release of all documents pertaining to the Russia controversy, according to people who attended the session in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.
Mr. Fitton, the participants said, told Mr. Teller that Mr. Trump needed to be committed to a policy of extreme transparency about contacts between Russian government officials and Trump associates during the 2016 campaign, including Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.
To clarify, I highlighted the need for extreme transparency on all scandal issues – IRS, Benghazi, Clinton emails, Obama’s illegal Russian leaks, etc. You can see my video report of the meeting with White House staff here.
Whether it be testifying before Congress or visiting the White House, it is a distinct honor to do so on behalf of you and the hundreds of thousands of Judicial Watch supporters who make our work possible. I encourage you to urge your elected representatives on the Hill and in the White House to follow JW’s lead on the transparency, anti-corruption, and the rule of law.
I have said before that the Hillary Clinton email scandal is far from over. The steady drip, drip of emails produced by the government under our legal prodding adds to an already devastating picture.
This week we released 1,184 pages of State Department records, including previously unreleased Hillary Clinton email exchanges, revealing additional instances of Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin sending classified information through unsecured email accounts, as well as contributors being given special access to the former secretary of state.
We obtained the emails in response to a court order from a May 5, 2015, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the State Department after it failed to respond to a simple FOIA request (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00684)) for:
All emails of official State Department business received or sent by former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin from January 1, 2009 through February 1, 2013 using a non-“state.gov” email address.
The latest records contain 29 previously undisclosed Clinton emails. There are now at least 288 emails that were not part of the 55,000 pages of emails that Clinton turned over to the State Department. This further appears to contradict statements by Clinton that, “as far as she knew,” all of her government emails were turned over to the State Department.
In a February 2010 email exchange, Jake Sullivan, then-deputy chief of staff to Clinton, sent to Clinton’s and Abedin’s unsecure email accounts information that the State Department has classified because the it includes information “to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy; foreign relations or foreign activities of the US, including confidential sources.” The redacted information concerns “former GTMO [Guantanamo] detainee Binyam Mohamed” and his request for “various classified intelligence documents” that contained U.S. intelligence information related to his detention before he was taken to Guantanamo.
In April 2010, Sid Blumenthal, a Clinton confidant and former employee of the Clinton Foundation, sent two email memos to Clinton containing information now classified. Clinton forwarded this material to Abedin’s unsecure email account. The classified information, which Clinton asks Abedin to print off for her, concerns the change of government in the Kyrgyz Republic.
In other emails, Clinton’s “final” schedules with specific details concerning her whereabouts were transmitted by Lona Valmoro, a senior Clinton advisor, to the unsecure emails accounts of Clinton Foundation officials Doug Band, Terry Krivnic Margaret Steenberg and others, and forwarded to Abedin’s unsecure email account.
In a March 15, 2010, exchange, Band forwarded to Abedin a request for help from Philip Levine, who is presumably the mayor of Miami Beach. Reports said Levine had been a fundraiser for the Clintons since the 1990s.
The newly obtained emails also reveal some unsuccessful efforts to set up phone meetings for Clinton with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
In a February 23, 2010, email, ambassador and Clinton friend Capricia Marshall asked Band and Abedin to work with her to plan Bill and Hillary Clinton’s funeral arrangements and notes: “once affirmed it will be very hard for someone to deny the type of ceremony she [Hillary] wanted – as well I understand that the President can request certain arrangements for her that she/her rep cannot (ie if you want the motorcade to go through DC – stop somewhere).” This unusual email received, as you might imagine, some press coverage.
A March 9, 2010, email exchange between Abedin and Band reveals some tension between Clinton’s top personal aide and the former secretary of state’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills. The apparent rift was revealed when Chelsea Clinton asked Band if he could arrange a White House tour for a female Haitian-American sailor from the USS Comfort. Band passed the request to Abedin, who replied to Band: “I don’t want to get cross wise with cdm [Cheryl Mills] on anything Haiti related” and “HAVE YOU MET CHERYL MILLS? [Emphasis in original] you have no idea.”
These emails are yet more evidence of Hillary Clinton’s casual and repeated violations of laws relating to the handling of classified information. The Justice Department should finally begin an independent investigation into the Clinton email matter.
Stay tuned, as we’re reviewing yet more emails for release soon….
The presidential election may be behind us, but the matter of election integrity is still very much with us. Our determination to see that our nation’s elections are free and fair has hardly abated.
This week, for example, we announced that we have joined with the Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) in filing an amici curiae brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of the State of North Carolina’s cert petition concerning its voter ID and other election integrity laws (State of North Carolina, et al. v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, et al. (No. 16-833)).
The case concerns North Carolina’s adoption in 2013 of common-sense election integrity measures requiring voter ID, eliminating “same-day” voter registration, reducing the early voting period, and prohibiting voters from casting provisional ballots outside of their voting precincts. The Obama Justice Department and other groups represented by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters filed suit, alleging this law was racially discriminatory against black voters in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The JW/AEF brief was filed in support of the petition for certiorari filed by North Carolina asking the Supreme Court to accept the case for consideration in order to overturn the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which struck down a 2013 North Carolina election-integrity law. The most recent appeals court ruling reversed the lower court ruling that found the election integrity measures lawful.
This has been quite the legal battle. JW and AEF filed amici curiae briefs at five earlier stages of this litigation, most recently supporting the North Carolina election integrity laws in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and supporting North Carolina’s request to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the appeals court ruling. Judicial Watch and AEF also filed amici briefs in this lawsuit in 2014 at the district court, in 2014 at the Fourth Circuit, and again at the Supreme Court in 2015.
We argue to the High Court that the lower court failed to prove a discriminatory effect that would show “that African American registration and turnout, which ought to be the true measures of electoral participation and power,” was diminished by any of the challenged voting procedures. “And if the lower court decision is allowed to stand, it will result in a massive distortion of our political system”:
Amici are principally concerned that the Fourth Circuit’s decision will subject state laws regarding electoral procedures to unremitting attacks on the grounds that one or another statistical analyses shows a disproportionate racial use of such procedures, even where this has no effect on the true electoral power of racial groups – indeed, perversely, even where this effect is positive. The consequences of this new electoral dynamic, to the extent that they can be foreseen, are all bad. As a practical matter, every change to state electoral law will be subject to a serious and viable challenge. State electoral law will become largely a federal matter, to be determined and approved in federal court. Even more disturbing, because this massive distortion of our political system relies on the wrong evidence of electoral harm, it ultimately may injure the minority voters it was meant to help.
We also argue that the Fourth Circuit mistakenly treated statistical disparities (disparate impact) regarding the use of electoral procedures as proof of a discriminatory effect. In fact, a Judicial Watch study found that minority voter turnout has actually increased since the passage of North Carolina’s election integrity bill:
To answer the question of whether there is a discriminatory effect, it is necessary to look at African Americans’ voter participation rates in elections both before and after the challenged provisions of SL 2013-381 went into effect. Statistical evidence of this kind was offered into evidence by [Judicial Watch/AEF] to rebut claims by [NAACP] that enforcement of some of the provisions of SL 2013-381 has a discriminatory effect. That evidence showed, as noted by the Fourth Circuit, that black voter “aggregate turnout increased by 1.8% in the 2014 midterm election as compared to the 2010 midterm election.”
The amici brief cites additional empirical studies that demonstrate the perverse consequences of the appeals court’s reasoning:
The evidence offered at trial showed that minority turnout and registration actually increased in North Carolina after the implementation of SL 2013-381.6. Indeed, with respect to early voting in particular there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that it is associated with lower turnout. In June 2016, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report online in which it gathered and presented the conclusions of scores of studies concerning a number of different electoral reforms. With regard to early voting, the report states:
- We reviewed 20 studies from 12 publications, and these studies had varied findings. Seven studies found no statistically significant effect, another 8 studies found that the policy decreased turnout, and 5 studies reported mixed evidence. Reported effects from these studies ranged from a 3.8 percentage point decrease in turnout to a 3.1 percentage point increase.
The GAO observed that one study found some evidence that “early in-person voting decreased turnout among Latinos in states that offered this policy compared to states that did not.” Furthermore, an expert called by Respondents in this case, Barry C. Burden, co-authored a 2014 report reaching the same, “unanticipated” conclusion, namely, that early voting was associated with lower turnout:
- It seems logical that making voting more convenient . . . will encourage more people to cast ballots. We challenge this notion and show that the most popular reform – early voting – actually decreases turnout when implemented by itself, an unanticipated consequence that has significant implications for policy and for theories of how state governments can influence turnout. This result is counterintuitive, and it certainly runs against the grain of conventional wisdom.
Here is what is really going on: To combat voter ID and election integrity, the Obama Justice Department and their leftist allies slandered North Carolina with a dishonest use of the race card.
Laws that help ensure cleaner elections, including voter ID, protect the integrity of votes of all Americans – black and white; Democrat and Republican.
Since this filing, newly elected North Carolina Democrat Governor Roy Cooper has moved to withdraw North Carolina’s petition to the Supreme Court. In response, the General Assembly for the State of North Carolina has objected to the Governor’s move and has filed a request to be added as a petitioner in order to try to preserve the election integrity measure by keeping the Supreme Court appeal alive.
The Allied Educational Foundation is a charitable and educational foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life through education. In furtherance of that goal, the Foundation has engaged in a number of projects, which include, but are not limited to, educational and health conferences domestically and abroad. AEF partners frequently with us to fight government and judicial corruption and to promote a return to ethics and morality in the nation’s public life.