Holding the DOJ Bureaucracy Accountable for the Cover-Up: Withholding Key Documents and Excessive Redactions on the Clinton-Lynch Meeting | American Center for Law and Justice
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Holding the DOJ Accountable for the Cover-Up

By Abigail A. Southerland1512577819130

We won’t allow the DOJ deep state to deceive the American public about Obama-era corruption.

This week, the ACLJ filed a motion for summary judgment in our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning our request seeking records relating to former Attorney General Lynch’s secret meeting with former President Bill Clinton on June 27, 2016, amidst the DOJ’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

One would expect the leading law enforcement agency – the DOJ – to comply fully with FOIA and that we wouldn’t be forced to take the DOJ to court. Unfortunately, and as our case clearly demonstrates, that simply isn’t the case. Not only did the DOJ deep state fail to comply with FOIA’s 20-day deadline and fail to turn over a single document for almost a year; it also failed, or intentionally refused, to conduct an adequate search for all responsive documents like the law requires.

In our motion filed earlier this week, that’s exactly what we told the court.

As you might recall, we received documents from the FBI last week in response to a similar FOIA. Within those documents was an email from a DOJ official (Shirlethia Franklin) to FBI officials about the media firestorm that ensued following the revelation to the public of AG Lynch’s secret tarmac meeting. This document was never produced by the DOJ bureaucracy in the instant case, but it clearly should have been. In fact, this was a key document proving that the Obama DOJ had immediately (within about 8 minutes) informed the FBI of its efforts to “deal with this,” something previously unknown to the public.

So, in our motion, we informed the court of the existence of such evidence and explained how it disputes any claim by DOJ that its search was thorough and complete. Though the DOJ informed us and the court that it had completed its search for responsive documents, clearly it had not provided us all the documents. Either the deep state bureaucracy intentionally withheld this document or miserably failed to conduct an adequate search. Regardless, the DOJ must be required to do another search and swear under oath to the court that it did so.

This is not the first time the deep state has withheld documents from us, in fact this production from the FBI happened because we discovered that the FBI had lied to us when the DOJ, in this case, produced a document from the FBI that the FBI had not.  Now the FBI has produced a document from the DOJ that the DOJ has not.  How many more hidden documents are there? That’s precisely why we are back in court.

We also called attention to the DOJ’s abuse of FOIA exemptions. The exemptions, which permit agencies – under very limited circumstances – to withhold information from public disclosure, can serve an important purpose. But unfortunately, agencies have come to abuse both the spirit and the letter of the law, claiming exemptions for embarrassing material they do not want to release.  In our case, the 400 plus pages of documents we obtained from DOJ are riddled with superfluous redactions – some entire pages long.

In fact, more than half of the documents produced by DOJ contain partial or full redactions. According to the DOJ, these redactions are made under FOIA exemption 5 and the deliberative process privilege. But that privilege is meant to shield only pre-decisional and deliberative discussions (i.e. opinions) exchanged internally between agency employees and officials.

The DOJ’s excessive redactions represent an abusive overuse of the exemption to cover up what the DOJ admits in court are “facts” and “key background information” regarding AG Lynch’s secret meeting with the former President.

As the DOJ admitted to the court in our case, the redacted talking points and press statements were prepared to assist DOJ leadership – in this case AG Lynch and various FBI officials, including as we now know FBI Director Comey – in responding to questions they might receive from the public. The DOJ argues that it should not be required to disclose these facts because the “decision to include or exclude certain factual information in or from analytical material is itself an important part of the deliberative process.” In other words, according to the DOJ’s circular reasoning, it should not have to comply with the FOIA and disclose certain facts surrounding AG Lynch’s secret meeting to the public merely because it chose not to do so at an earlier time. If the DOJ bureaucracy has it their way, they will be able to use that exemption to redact anything they want.

The ACLJ challenged these unwarranted redactions and the DOJ’s attempts to conceal these facts, explaining to the Court that (1) the DOJ’s redactions do not properly fall under the FOIA exemption asserted by DOJ – which protects only certain opinions – not facts, and (2) the public’s need for the information outweighs the DOJ’s assertion of the privilege.

As the D.C. Circuit has explained, “where there is reason to believe the documents sought may shed light on government misconduct, ‘the privilege is routinely denied’” because “shielding internal government deliberations in this context does not serve ‘the public's interest in honest, effective government.’” Clearly, the clandestine meeting between Lynch and Clinton has led to numerous allegations of “government misconduct.”

In fact, the FBI actually granted expedited processing in this case, based on “Department of Justice (DOJ) standards,” stating that it involved “[a] matter . . . in which there exist possible questions about the government’s integrity which affects public confidence.”

At the very least, and particularly in light of the former Attorney General’s personal and political relationship with the former president, the meeting implicated DOJ Ethical Standards – which prohibit any appearance of impropriety – in light of the ongoing criminal investigation by the DOJ of the former President’s wife (not to mention that this investigation also encompassed conduct by the Clinton Foundation itself). It is also possible – depending upon the still hidden facts surrounding the meeting, which the ACLJ is fighting to reveal – that AG Lynch’s actions resulted in a violation of federal law.

The government – especially the top law enforcement agency in the country – must not be permitted to hide evidence of its own misconduct, or conceal facts that would shed more light on the context of this questionable meeting. Nor should the government be permitted to keep information secret merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, or because errors and failures might be revealed.

The information hidden by the DOJ is undoubtedly of paramount interest and importance to the public, and we are hopeful that we will soon be allowed to see it.

Join us as we continue out fight against the deep state and government corruption in federal court.

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