A federal court ruled earlier this month that documents the Justice Department has in its possession relating to Operation Fast and Furious that the Obama administration has withheld from Congress under its claim of executive privilege must be turned over.
This ruling came from the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia as the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, commonly called a FOIA, filed by the independent watchdog group Judicial Watch, according to its statement issued Thursday. This marks the latest in a series of blows the judiciary has dealt the administration.
U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates’s decision came after a lengthy 16-month delay of Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit, and orders the Justice Department to turn over “a detailed listing 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 group’s statement said.
The Department of Justice had asked for a stay in response to Judicial Watch’s initial pleadings, claiming that complying with the group’s request would interfere with the department’s ongoing litigation with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed documents in the matter in October, 2011. The White House responded with its assertion of executive privilege a year later.
The court ruled:
In the [February 15, 2013] order granting the stay, this court explicitly noted that the DOJ ‘does not seek, and the court will not award, an indefinite stay pending ultimate resolution of the House Committee litigation,’ and that ‘the benefits of delaying this case might well [become] too attenuated to justify any further delay”
Because many of the issues to be resolved in this case do not overlap with the House committee, and because resolving those issues will not risk upsetting the delicate balance of powers in subpoena disputes between the political branches, the Court will require DOJ to produce a Vaughn index here.
The court further ruled that disclosure of this information may actually help resolve the Obama administration’s ongoing battle with the House Oversight Committee.
A list of documents being withheld — which the Justice Department has now been ordered to disclose, is commonly referred to as a “Vaughn index,” and according to Judicial Watch’s statement:
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.”
“Once again, Judicial Watch has beat Congress to the punch in getting key information about another Obama scandal – this time, the Fast and Furious outrage,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement. “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. 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.”
Fast and Furious was the name given to a joint DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gunwalking scheme, where agents purposely allowed licensed firearm dealers to sell guns to straw purchasers in an attempt to track the flood of weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. It became a scandal after the ATF lost track of the weapons, and a border patrol agent was murdered.
The Obama administration has until Oct. 1 to comply with the order.