It was my privilege to testify on March 23, 2017, 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 lawbreaking 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.