Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration's Justice Department have come under fire in the past for allegedly letting politics tip the balance of Justice. Specifically, J. Christian Adams, a former DOJ official, made news last year when he publicly accused the agency of racial bias in handling the 2008 election voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party.
On Thursday, Adams leveled more accusations at Holder's Justice Department, claiming its compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) had been politicized. According to documents obtained by Adams, FOIA requests from liberals or other politically connected civil rights groups are often given same-day attention by the DOJ, while requests from conservatives or Republican-affiliated groups face long delays or are ignored altogether.
The documents show a pattern of politicized compliance within the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. In particular, I have obtained FOIA logs that demonstrate as of August 2010, the most transparent administration in history is anything but. The logs provide the index number of the information request, the date of the request, the requestor, and the date of compliance.
For example, Republican election attorney Chris Ashby of LeClair Ryan made a request for the records of five submissions made under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Ashby waited nearly eight months for a response. Afterwards, Susan Somach of the “Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda,” a group headed by Rev. Joseph Lowery, made requests for 23 of the same type of records. While Ashby waited many months for five records, Somach waited only 20 days for 23 records.
Under the Obama DOJ, FOIA requests from conservative media never obtained any response from the Civil Rights Division, while National Public Radio obtained a response in five days.
Adams points to specific cases in the past to support his argument:
In 2006, Charlie Savage, then at the not-yet-insolvent Boston Globe, requested all of the resumes of the recently hired attorneys in the Bush Civil Rights Division — including mine. DOJ leadership was convinced rushing out the resumes of dozens of lawyers far before the deadline was a good thing. ...
In spring of 2010, Pajamas Media requested the exact same information from the DOJ that Charlie Savage requested in 2006 — except for hires made in the Obama DOJ. Recall the Bush administration turned over all the resumes of attorneys as fast as they could, and well before the statutory FOIA deadline.
PJM’s request was ignored. Then on October 13, 2010, the request was renewed by certified mail. Still, no response as required by law.
Last month, the Pajamas Media group finally filed suit in U.S. District Court to obtain the records from the Justice Department.
"The data in the FOIA logs I obtained reveal the priorities of the Civil Rights Division — transparency for friends, stonewalls for the unfriendly," Adams wrote Thursday.
Politicized compliance with FOIA might be an administration-wide pattern. The revelation that the Obama Department of Homeland Security has politicized the FOIA process may be just the tip of the iceberg.
If so, what should we make of patterns of lawless noncompliance with the FOIA? If nothing else, it exposes the rank hypocrisy of those heady days in 2008 when transparency was a campaign promise. In the worst case, we have an administration willing to violate the law to conceal details about their governance.
Click here for Adams' report.