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Fitton: Email Action by Court as Obama Leaves Office

Judicial Watch wishes the new president, President Donald Tump, all the best, and we hope he brings with him a respect for the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution – a respect sorely lacking from the Oval Office’s previous occupant.  One of the Obama’s legacies of lawlessness is the pending Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against various executive agencies.  All of these lawsuits, well over 60, were against the Obama administration.  Now, they are against agencies of the Trump administration.  Ironically, the Trump administration will have to grapple with all of Judicial Watch’s Clinton email-related lawsuits against the State Department and other agencies.

President Trump should commit to a transparency revolution, especially as Hillary Clinton’s war on transparency helped make his presidency possible.  The Trump administration and new Congress must focus on restoring the rule of law and accountability after eight years of a lawless Obama administration.  Corruption in government is an overwhelming problem.  We expect, but will not rely on, President Trump or other DC politicians to do the right thing.  Judicial Watch will continue its independent investigations and lawsuits to hold politicians of both political parties accountable to the rule of law.

Let’s hope the Trump administration takes a different approach to transparency, one that respects the law and the people’s right to know.  His appointees will have to deal with the transparency issue immediately, especially as the courts took actions last week to make sure that the Obama administration wouldn’t destroy some public documents on its way out the door.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted our Motion to Preserve emails of a U.S. Department of Justice assistant attorney general. Judge Sullivan issued a Minute Order on January 17, 2017, requiring the Justice Department to “preserve all agency records and potential agency records between the dates of December 1, 2014, and November 7, 2016, in any personal email account of Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Peter Kadzik.”

The court order came in response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit we filed against the U.S. Department of Justice on January 15, 2017, seeking access, in part, to email correspondence between Peter Kadzik, the Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, and John Podesta, then-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, regarding the Justice Department’s review of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-00029)).

According to WikiLeaks, on May 19, 2015, Kadzik sent Podesta an email appearing to tip off Clinton’s campaign about the Justice Department’s review of Clinton’s emails:

There is a HJC oversight hearing today where the head of our Civil Division will testify. Likely to get questions on State Department emails. Another filing in the FOIA case went in last night or will go in this am that indicates it will be awhile (2016) before the State Department posts the emails.

On November 7, 2016, Judicial Watch submitted a FOIA request to the Justice Department seeking:

  • All email correspondence between Peter Kadzik on either his official Justice Department email account or peterkadzik@gmail.com and any non-government employee regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of non-state.gov email to conduct official government business;
  • All email correspondence between Peter Kadzik on either his official Justice Department email account or peterkadzik@gmail.com and John Podesta; and
  • All email correspondence between Peter Kadzik on his official Justice Department email account or peterkadzik@gmail.com and any official, officer or employee of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • The timeframe for this request is December 1, 2014 to November 7, 2016.

Also on November 7, we submitted another FOIA request to the Justice Department seeking:

  • All emails sent to or received by Peter Kadzik using the email address peterkadzik@gmail.com in which he conducted official government business; and
  • All emails copied and/or forwarded … to Peter Kadzik’s Justice Department email account from peterkadzik@gmail.com.
  • The timeframe for this request is January 1, 2016 to the present.

After the Justice Department failed to respond to its FOIA requests, we filed a FOIA lawsuit on January 5, 2017, and, the next day, filed a Motion for Preservation Order for the court to order the Justice Department to preserve the agency records “currently residing” in Kadzik’s Gmail account:

The records at issue are in the physical possession of Assistant Attorney General Kadzik. With the upcoming change in administrations on January 20, 2017, it is likely that he will leave government service on or around that date.

[Judicial Watch] is concerned that after Assistant Attorney General Kadzik leaves government employment, Defendant will no longer have control over the actions of this official.

In the Justice Department’s January 17, 2017, Opposition to Judicial Watch’s Motion for Preservation Order, the Department contended that:

It is the government’s understanding that Mr. Kadzik has located no agency records or potential agency records in his Gmail account and that, therefore, there are no such documents to preserve … Because the government has already taken the action that Judicial Watch’s motion requests, and has informed the Court of that action, Judicial Watch’s motion is moot and should be denied.

The court was not persuaded, did not find Judicial Watch’s motion moot, and issued the Preservation Order the same day.

It is astonishing that the Obama Justice Department played games with its emails, especially Clinton-related emails.  We hope this and our other lawsuits — and the court’s hard-hitting court order – sent a signal to the entire Obama administration not to destroy government records to spite the American people’s right to know.  It will now be up to the Trump administration to either finally vindicate the rule of law or continue its obstruction.

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