Is FOIA reform finally at the tipping point? The federal Freedom of Information Act was designed to give citizens prompt access to information about their government. Instead, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare, a vast black hole of years-long delays and heavily censored documents.
In recent weeks, a trifecta of powerful federal judges, each acting independently, has blasted the Obama Administration’s FOIA delays. It is never good to anger a federal judge. Angering three over the same issue is unprecedented.
All three judges sit on the influential U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In Judge Richard Leon’s court, he slammed the State Department for a four year delay in responding to the Associated Press’s FOIA requests for records about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top aides. State Department lawyers, Judge Leon complained, were answering him with “convoluted gobbledygook” about the records.
“I want to find out what’s been going on over there” at the State Department, Judge Leon said. “I should say, what’s not been going on over there.” Later, according to a report in Politico, the judge snapped when State Department lawyers indicated there would be further delays: “Have it by next week. Have it by next week when we have our hearing. Do you hear me?”
Matters also were heated at the courtroom of Judge Rudolph Contreras. In a hearing concerning a Judicial Watch lawsuit about email records from Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the judge warned the State Department that it will “have to answer for” any destruction of the documents.
Ordering that some records related to the Clinton Foundation be turned over by mid-August, Judge Contreras warned: “If documents are destroyed between now and August 17, the government will have to answer for that, and, you know if they don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary to preserve them between now and then, they can make that choice. I will allow them to make that choice, but they will answer for it, if something happens.”