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Judge Upholds Secrecy Claim

The White House does not have to release to the public records related to millions of missing e-mails, a federal judge ruled June 16.

According to The Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the White House’s Office of Administration (OA) is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW said it is appealing the decision, according to the Post.

The ruling means that the White House can continue to keep the extent of its e-mail problems under wraps.

“We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion,” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement, as quoted by the Post. “The Bush administration is using the legal system to prevent the American people from discovering the truth about the millions of missing White House e-mails. The fact is, until CREW asked for documents pertaining to this problem, the Office of Administration routinely processed FOIA requests. Only because the administration has so much to hide here, has the White House taken the unprecedented position that OA is not subject to the FOIA.”

Posted 06-16-2008 4:40 PM EDT

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Taking the White House to Task

A June 4 New York Times editorial  excoriates the Bush administration for playing politics with climate change, hiding and manipulating scientific information about global warming.

Last week, NASA's inspector general found that the agency's political appointees in the public affairs office attempted to restrict reporter access to James Hansen, NASA's leading climate scientist - who had criticized the administration's refusal to address climate change, according to the Times

“The administration long ago secured a special place in history for bending science to its political ends,” the editorial says. “One costly result is that this nation has lost seven years in a struggle in which time is not on anyone's side.”

Posted 06-04-2008 12:43 PM EDT

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It’s Time to Make Rove Talk

Karl Rove - former political mastermind in the Bush White House - has been known to work behind the scenes.

But it looks like his time in the spotlight - on Capitol Hill, before the House Judiciary Committee - is finally approaching.

The New York Times editorialized June 2  that the committee, which has subpoenaed Rove to testify, “should do everything in its power to see that he [testifies] and that he answers all of its questions.”

This comes after the editorial notes that, during an appearance on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Rove did not “directly” deny his involvement in the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute former Democratic Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman, who was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to more than seven years. According to The Times, Siegelman had been the Democrats’ best shot of retrieving Alabama’s governorship - until his indictment.

Was the U.S. justice system manipulated to bring about a politically motivated outcome? It’s up to the House Judiciary Committee to find out.

It’s finally time for the behind-the-scenes guy to step forward.

Posted 06-02-2008 1:06 PM EDT

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What Will It Take ...

To make Karl Rove appear before the House Judiciary Committee? Rove, Bush’s former chief political adviser, already has refused the committee’s invitation to appear voluntarily.

Now, according to The New York Times, he’s been served a subpoena from the committee. But his lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, said Rove was not going to appear because the White House told him not to. (Remember, Rove is no longer working for the White House.)

Committee Democrats want Rove to appear before them so they can ask questions about the controversial decisions to dismiss several federal prosecutors and to prosecute former Democratic Alabama Gov. Donald E. Siegelman.

And if Rove refuses to testify? House Democrats are going to have to consider issuing a contempt citation, the Times said.

Posted 06-02-2008 12:48 PM EDT

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The Bush administration’s double top-secret trade deal

From Joe Newman at CitizenVox.org:

So, journalist and blogger Ed Brayton was a little curious after the U.S. government struck a deal with the European Union and other countries that compensates them in exchange for the U.S. passing online gambling laws that interfere with international trade as governed by the World Trade Organization. Brayton, who also happens to be an online poker player, was curious what exactly the U.S. was giving up in exchange. You should be too, since it is rumored that the compensation could be worth billions of dollars. The only problem is that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative refused to release details of the compensation agreement to Brayton, claiming it was a matter of national security. I’m not sure whether they did this with a straight face. Public Citizen filed suit this week on behalf of Brayton. The suit contends the Bush administration is illegally withholding the details of the compensation deal.

Brayton has written about the government’s ludicrous contention on his blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

"Yes, they are actually claiming that this document, which has nothing even remotely do to with anything that could conceivably, in Dick Cheney’s wildest imagination, have anything to do with national security, has been properly classified. Americans, according to this administration, have no right to know how many billions of our tax dollars they’ve spent with no legislative authorization whatsoever in order to buy the cooperation of other nations and allow them to continue to violate the rights of American adults by preventing them from gambling in the privacy of their own home."

And here’s what Public Citizen attorney Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer said about the secret deal:

"Americans have a right to know what kinds of trade concessions the U.S. government is granting other countries, especially when those deals have a significant impact on domestic policy and may be worth billions of dollars. The Bush administration’s decision to withhold the agreement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has more to do with its desire to prevent public and congressional scrutiny of the settlement before it is enshrined in a new WTO schedule than it does with national security. FOIA requires the agreement’s release."

You can read the complaint here.

Posted 05-21-2008 11:09 AM EDT

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Promises, Promises

Despite its promises, the Republican National Committee (RNC) no longer will try to restore missing e-mails sent by White House officials on RNC accounts, according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during a Feb. 26 hearing.

White House officials - including former presidential adviser Karl Rove - had used RNC accounts for government business, even though rules stated that they had to use official channels to conduct government business, according to the Feb. 27 Washington Post. (Administration officials have acknowledged such practices.)

The RNC had told the committee previously that it was trying to restore e-mails from 2001 to 2003, when the RNC’s policy was to purge all e-mails after 30 days.

Somehow, the RNC had a change of heart.

“The result is a potentially enormous gap in the historical record,” Waxman said, including the prelude to the Iraq war.

Posted 02-27-2008 12:44 PM EDT

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Army Restricts Access to Unclassified Information

The Army has closed public access to a digital library that contains unclassified field and technical information, according to The Washington Post.

On Feb. 6, the Reimer Digital Library was moved behind a firewall, protected by a password.

The Army says it is limiting access to comply with Defense Department policies for tightening the security of military Web sites and to keep better track of who is accessing these sites.

However, the Project on Government Secrecy, a program within the nonprofit Federation of American Scientists, is hoping to restore access to the documents. The group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Feb. 13 for all of the unclassified, publicly releasable documents in the library’s collection so it can post the material on the group’s Web site.

“They can configure Army Web sites however they like,” the Project on Government Secrecy's director, Steven Aftergood, is quoted in the Post as saying. “What they cannot do is to withhold information from the public that is subject to release under the FOIA. … What we really want to do is to persuade them to adopt a reasonable policy of openness, not to provide an alternative - unless we have to.”

Posted 02-21-2008 12:49 PM EDT

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Public Health Agency Suppresses Hazardous Substances Report

Same story, different cast: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is blocking the release of a report that studies environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states.

The study, originally set for release last July, warns that more than nine million people living in more than two dozen “areas of concern” - including those living in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee - could face increased health risks from exposure to contaminants such as pesticides, lead, mercury or other pollutants, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

The government has said the report’s quality was below expectations and was still being reviewed. (Dozens of experts have reviewed drafts of the report since 2004.) And the individual who oversaw the study has been demoted after pushing to release the Great Lakes study and other reports.

“It’s not good because it’s inconvenient,” said Canadian biologist Michael Gilbertson, a Canadian biologist who was a peer reviewer for the report. “The whole problem with all this kind of work is wrapped up in that word ‘injury.’ If you have injury, that implies liability. Liability, of course, implies damages, legal processes, and costs of remedial action. The governments, frankly, in both countries are so heavily aligned with, particularly, the chemical industry, that the worst amongst the bureaucracies is that they really do not want any evidence of effect or injury to be allowed out there.”

Posted 02-18-2008 1:17 PM EDT

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House Issues Contempt Citations Against White House Aides

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives approved contempt citations against White House aides for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry into allegations that political motives were behind the firing of U.S. attorneys in 2006.

The citations were issued against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers. Bolten’s contempt resolution notes that he has refused to turn over subpoenaed documents and e-mails sought by the House Judiciary Committee in the investigation, according to The Washington Post.

Miers is cited because she refused to testify after she was subpoenaed to come before the committee last summer.

For almost a year, Bush has not allowed any current or former member of his West Wing staff to testify in the investigation. Bush, citing executive privilege, has offered to allow staffers to testify only if the testimony is taken without transcripts and under oath.

“This is beyond arrogance. This is hubris taken to the ultimate degree,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Posted 02-18-2008 1:14 PM EDT

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Three's a charm

Three’s a charm, unless you’re the Internal Revenue Service, that is. The agency is flouting three court orders requiring it to provide a nationally recognized researcher with statistical data on how the agency enforces the nation’s tax laws.

On Feb. 11, Public Citizen, along with the Seattle, Wash. law firm Davis Wright Tremaine filed a lawsuit on behalf of the researcher, Susan B. Long and her organization, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

Posted 02-15-2008 5:36 PM EDT

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