Our Law Shield members who have been following the Department of Justice’s efforts to fight releasing any Fast and Furious materials will be glad to hear of an impending deadline DOJ is supposed to meet.
Judicial Watch announced on September 25 that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that by October 22, the Department of Justice (DOJ) must submit a “Vaughn index” listing Fast and Furious materials Judicial Watch sought in its June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent September 2012 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice [No. 1:12-cv-01510]).
A Vaughn index must: (1) identify each document withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.
On July 18, Bates ordered the Department of Justice to produce the documents list by October 1. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates denied a motion by the Obama DOJ that it be given over an extra month, until November 3, to produce the Vaughn index. Judge Bates noted that the Justice Department’s request showed “at best, it means the Department has been slow to react to this Court’s previous [July 18, 2014] Order. At worst, it means the Department has ignored that Order until now.”
In its FOIA lawsuit, Judicial Watch sought all of the documents the Obama White House was withholding from the House of Representatives under its June 20, 2012, executive privilege claims. The House had been separately litigating to obtain the documents but had gotten nowhere until after Judge Bates ruled that the DOJ finally had to disclose the document information to Judicial Watch. On September 9, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, citing Judicial Watch’s success, ordered the DOJ to begin producing information to Congress by November 3.
In denying the DOJ’s motion for an extension until the day before the November elections, Bates ruled, “The government’s argument for even more time is unconvincing,” and granted the government just 21 additional days to produce the Vaughn index to Judicial Watch.
Judge Bates gave the agency until October 22 to produce the information – “and no further”.
“The Obama administration failed to game the courts and now will have to account for its Fast and Furious lies. Two federal courts have now rejected Eric Holder’s election-related ploy to keep this information from the American people,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This is a battle that put Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, saw Nixonian assertions of executive privilege by Barack Obama, and a hapless Congress in the face of all this lawlessness. We are pleased we may get some accountability for Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of others who lost their lives as a result of Obama’s Fast and Furious program.”
Operation Fast and Furious was a Justice Department/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-running” operation in which the Obama administration allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels. Fast and Furious weapons have been implicated in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and others in Mexico. Guns from the Fast and Furious scandal are expected to be used in criminal activity for years to come.
Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt by the House of Representatives over his refusal to turn over documents about why the Obama administration may have lied to Congress and refused for months to disclose the truth about the gun-running operation. It marked the first time in U.S. history a sitting Attorney General was held in contempt of Congress.
On June 20, 2012, the eve of the contempt citation, President Obama stepped in and invoked “executive privilege” over the Fast and Furious documents the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had subpoenaed eight months earlier. This invocation, besides ensuring no disclosures would be made before President Obama’s reelection, also had the effect of protecting Holder from being prosecuted for contempt, because it is the “practice” of the DOJ to not prosecute contempt of Congress charges if the documents in dispute are being withheld pursuant to executive privilege claims.
Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request for the “executive privilege” documents just two days after President Obama made his assertion of this presidential privilege. When the DOJ denied that request, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on September 12, 2012. On February 15, 2013, Judge Bates stayed the Judicial Watch lawsuit, in part to allow ongoing settlement discussions between the Justice DOJ and the House Committee to continue.
But on July 18, 2014, after a 16-month delay, Judge Bates ordered the DOJ to turn over to Judicial Watch a “Vaughn index” of all Fast and Furious materials by October 1 (the date, under this week’s court ruling, is now October 22).
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