Group Sues Obama Over Access to Information
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The Fiscal Times
August 19, 2014

What was supposed to be the “most transparent presidency in history” is facing intense scrutiny for blocking reporter requests for information.

Cause of Action, a legal organization in DC, is suing President Obama for alleged Freedom of Information Act violations by 12 agencies within the federal government.

The group claims that agencies have delayed handing over documents requested by media outlets like USA Today, Cox Media, The Washington Examiner, as well as the Los Angeles Times, which was delayed by two years. The complaint alleges that each of the FOIA requests that were sent to the White House were held up by the president’s counsel in an attempt to improperly delay handing over certain documents, The Washington Post first reported.

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In 2009, Cause of Action was tipped off to a White House memo that instructed agencies to consult with the president’s counsel before handing over documents that may involve “White House equities.” It found that there were numerous delayed FOIA requests –some put off by between eight and 14 months.

“The phrase ‘White House equities’ was and still is not defined by the White House or other authority,” the complaint says. “But federal FOIA officials have reported that agencies consult with the White House when requested records are politically sensitive or embarrassing to the Administration.”

To be sure, administrations have routinely monitored FOIA requests through the White House counsel’s office, but Cause of Action is claiming that the Obama administration has broadened the practice.

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review,” Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein said in a statement. “The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons.”

A spokesperson from the Obama administration told The Post, “President Barack Obama is committed to a transparent and open government and has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that members of the public have access to information.”

The lawsuit isn’t the only time the administration is coming under fire for transparency issues. Just this last weekend, James Risen, The New York Times reporter facing potential jail time for refusing to name his source, called the president the “greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation,” in Maureen Dowd’s Sunday column.

Under the Espionage Act, the Justice Department has aggressively tried to prosecute Risen for refusing to testify against a confidential source who was cited in his book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.