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March 12, 2013

Kafka-esque, It Is!

The President's much-vaunted transparency:

The most absurd example came a couple years ago when a group of Washington watchdogs went to the White House to give the president a “transparency” award, and the president refused to accept the award in public. The meeting wasn’t even listed on the president’s public schedule.

The watchdogs shouldn’t be fooled so easily. In March 2010, the Associated Press found that, under Obama, 17 major agencies were 50 percent more likely to deny FOIA requests than under Bush. The following year, the presidents of two journalism societies— Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Professional Journalists—called out President Obama for muzzling scientists in much the same way President Bush had. Last September, Bloomberg News tested Obama’s pledge by filing FOIA requests for the 2011 travel records of top officials at 57 agencies. Only about half responded. In fact, this president has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined. And an analysis released Monday by the Associated Press found that the administration censored more FOIA requests on national security grounds last year than in any other year since President Obama took office.

Even when members of his own party ask questions, the Obama White House throws down an iron curtain. After demanding answers about the government response to the BP oil spill, Democratic Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva sent a long letter to Obama expressing disappointment with the “unjustifiable” redactions he received, “including entire pages blacked out in the middle of pertinent e-mail conversations.”

One of the most glaring examples of Obama’s failure on transparency is his response to the “Fast and Furious” fiasco—the botched attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to find Mexican drug lords by tracking guns smuggled from the United States into Mexico. The debacle came to light when ATF whistleblowers met with investigators working for Sen. Grassley. Grassley sent a letter to the Department of Justice demanding answers; not realizing Grassley already had documents that laid out the operation, officials at Justice responded with false and misleading information that violated federal law. When Grassley pressed the issue, the Justice Department retracted its initial response but refused to say anything more, which has resulted in multiple hearings and subpoenas.

The storyline is classic Washington: Whistleblowers run to Congress about bad behavior; Congress demands answers; the White House throws up a wall. But where is the outrage, especially from the very groups who are supposed to be holding the government accountable? It doesn’t exist. Writing about Fast and Furious for the Huffington Post, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight mused whether the entire inquiry being led by Republicans was merely “partisanship” run amok. Wouldn’t it have been more logical for her to ask why Democrats hadn’t joined Republicans in demanding that the White House respond?
Such a poor grasp of the facts could be caused by the involvement of Rep. Darrell Issa, who was ordered years ago by the Republican leadership to turn the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into a war machine against the White House. However, in this case, Issa was in the right.
As the administration continued to insist they had no involvement or knowledge of the ATF program, Issa released several Fast and Furious wiretap applications with signatures of top Justice Department officials. Rather than attacking the administration’s stonewalling, Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, attacked Rep. Issa for releasing the sealed documents.

Never mind that every investigative committee releases sealed documents. (I cannot tell you how many times my Senate Finance Committee colleagues and I released documents that were under seal.) It’s how Congress functions and does its job. However, CREW’s close ties to ethics czar Eisen might explain why Sloan was so quick to go on the partisan attack.
Tired of stonewalling, House Republicans threatened Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt, forcing Obama’s hand. In 2007, presidential candidate Obama told the Boston Globe, “My view is that executive privilege generally depends on the involvement of the president and the White House.” He must take a different view of it now, as Obama declared executive privilege to protect the Department of Justice as well, compelling the House to vote for contempt.

Posted by Cassandra at March 12, 2013 12:28 PM

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