Watchdog group sues the “most transparent administration in history” for allowing the White House to obstruct document release

President Barack Obama’s White House has interfered with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the release of communications with a dozen federal agencies, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday by Cause of Action, a government watchdog organization.

Cause of Action has sued ten cabinet agencies — including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Health and Human Services — the Internal Revenue Service, and the White House Office of Management and Budget for allowing the White House to influence the FOIA process and delay response to document requests.

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons.”

“Cause of Action’s own investigation reveals that the White House is actually demanding access from agencies to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Congressional document requests, as well as the documents subject to those requests, in a manner that may obstruct congressional oversight and violate the spirit of FOIA,” he added.

The watchdog organization released a report earlier this year that included an April 2009 memo from then-White House Counsel Greg Craig instructing all executive-level agencies to “consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on all document requests that may involve documents with White House equities.”

The memo is significant because the previous policy had been to only review FOIA requests that involve documents that originated from the White House. But the April 2009 memo means if someone in the White House has an interest in the documents sought — under the guise of “White House equities” — then the request would be reviewed by the White House counsel’s office.

Obviously, this sort of interference from the White House in the FOIA process has tremedous ramifications for government transparency. And, yet, the White House continues to repeat the absurd claim that this administration is the most transparent in history.

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