Apparently, President Barack Obama got away with a subtle, but fundamentally expansive, act of furtive self-protection in 2009 by positioning the White House, for the first time in the Nation’s history, to intercept any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that involve not only the Executive Branch, but any other government activity that the Executive Branch could fabricate a reason for caring about.
According to a report issued today by government watchdog Cause of Action, an unpublicized memorandum from Gregory Craig – who served at the time as White House Counsel – instructed all executive agencies to “consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on all document requests that may involve documents with White House equities… This need to consult with the White House arises with respect to all types of document requests, including Congressional committee requests, GAO requests, judicial subpoenas, and FOIA requests.”
As the Washington Examiner observed Tuesday, the Freedom of Information Act has, throughout its long history, never been modified to accommodate this new, expansive language. A proposal currently before Congress, if it becomes law, would actually amend the FOIA to favor the curious public, streamlining the application process and expediting responses from government agencies.
That’s a far cry from the secretive 2009 memorandum that effectively altered the law to benefit the sitting President.
Although the memo illegally (but successfully) broadened the White House’s prerogative in obstructing FOIA requests, the most damaging phrase is “White House equities.” Evidently, no one but the White House is gifted with the authority to interpret what it means.
“An instructive example of how ‘White House equities’ is construed – and ultimately abused – is the White House’s review of FOIA requests concerning the well-publicized conference spending scandal at the General Services Administration (GSA),” Cause of Action explains. “E-mails between GSA and the White House Counsel’s Office show that the Administration affirmatively sought to review document requests related to politically-sensitive issues.
“…All the more egregious is the fact that the President has used White House equities to reverse the FOIA process: FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review. This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties.”
That’s as sinister as it is illegal. Rewriting the Freedom of Information Act by any means other than Congressional amendment is illegal, and taking extraordinary, unConstitutional action to rewrite the law expressly to gain a political advantage – including the possible eradication or falsification of evidence of wrongdoing – is a wilful criminal subversion of public service.