Law Shield was very interested to learn that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) must turn over an index of Fast and Furious documents to the legal watchdog group Judicial Watch.
We believe our members have a right to know how and why the Administration set up Fast and Furious, a DOJ/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-running” operation in which the administration reportedly 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 hundreds of innocent people in Mexico.
Generally speaking, the documents at issue are about how and if the Obama administration misled Congress about the Fast and Furious matter.
This order forces the Obama DOJ, for the first time and by October 1, 2014, to provide a detailed index of all documents that it has withheld from Congress and the American people for years about the deadly Fast and Furious gun-running scandal. The ruling can be found here.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, “A federal court has ordered the Obama administration to produce information that could, for the first time, provide specific details who in the administration is responsible for Fast and Furious lies to Congress and the American people.”
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates lifted a lengthy 16-month delay of this open-records lawsuit.
The DOJ opposed the Judicial Watch action, claiming it would interfere with the department’s continuing litigation with the House Oversight Committee concerning these Fast and Furious documents subpoenaed in October 2011. In September 2012, Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents.
Specifically, Judge Bates ordered DOJ to produce a “Vaughn index” of all requested Operation Fast and Furious materials from the 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]). Judicial Watch sought all of the documents the Obama White House was withholding from the House of Representatives under executive-privilege claims.
Judge Bates also noted no court has ever “expressly recognized” President Obama’s executive privilege claims that his administration is using.
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.”
In ordering the DOJ to provide Judicial Watch the Vaughn index, the Court ruled, “In this circuit, when an agency is withholding documents under exemption claims, courts require that the agency provide a Vaughn index so that the FOIA requester – at a distinct informational disadvantage – may test the agency’s claims.”
On June 20, 2012, President Obama asserted executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents the House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed eight months earlier. Judicial Watch filed its FOIA request two days later. When the DOJ denied that request, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on September 12, 2012. On February 15, 2013, Judge Bates stayed the case, in part to allow ongoing settlement discussions between the DOJ and the House Committee to continue. Judge Bates’ order lifted the stay after a lengthy July 18 hearing.
Fitton said, “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 face of all this lawlessness. Finally, we may get some accountability for Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the countless others murdered as a result of the insanely reckless Obama administration program.”