When you’re going head-to-head with a deliberately obstructionist Department of Justice (DOJ), it’s important to set deadlines. I am pleased to report that the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia has ruled that the DOJ must submit a “Vaughn index” list of documents by October 22 in our continuing battle to unearth the truth about the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious gun-running scandal.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates turned back a motion from the DOJ asking that it be given an extra month to produce the material. The ruling forces the DOJ to identify each document that has been withheld in response to our June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and our subsequent FOIA lawsuit filed on September 2012 seeking DOJ records pertaining to the Fast and Furious debacle.
Fast and Furious was a joint DOJ-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun running operation that the administration perpetrated with the expectation that it would bolster gun control proposals in the U.S. The idea was to allow guns to find their way into the arms of Mexican drug cartels who would in turn use them in criminal operations. Some of the weapons used in Fast and Furious have been implicated in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of innocent Mexicans.
As Eric Holder prepares to step down, let’s not forget that he was the man behind the Fast and Furious scandal, and, in fact, he 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 that a sitting Attorney General was held in contempt of Congress.
In our FOIA lawsuit, we asked for all of the Fast and Furious documents that the Obama White House refused to release to the House of Representatives. In fact, President Obama, to protect Holder from being criminally prosecuted, asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented effort to keep all of the information secret. But Judicial Watch has persevered. (Congress sued for the documents, but got nowhere until Judicial Watch broke things open with our lawsuit. Details here.)
The Vaughn index the Court has ordered requires the DOJ to do the following: (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.
It is quite clear that if the White House had its way, it would withhold this information until it was sure it could not impact the mid-term election in November. Now it will be available for public consumption well in advance of that date.
Team Obama offered up the usual litany of excuses and delay tactics. Administration officials claimed the sheer volume of documents required additional time to comply with the Vaughn index. They also complained that a significant number of additional attorneys would be needed to comply with the deadline. But, as Judge Bates said in his ruling, the DOJ has known about its Vaughn index obligations since July 18, 2014 – which means either that the department had been slow to react to the Court’s prior order, or that it had been ignoring the order altogether. Either way, in the judge’s words, “The government’s argument for even more time is unconvincing.”
In the meantime, we are pleased that 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.