According to a story in the Washington Examiner, the Obama administration essentially rewrote the Freedom of Information Act four years ago without telling anyone. The rewrite came as a result of 2009 memo written by then-White House Counsel Greg Craig. That document instructed the executive branch to let White House officials review any FOIA-requested documents that involved “White House equities.”
The contents of the Craig memo are described in a new report released by government watchdog group Cause of Action. The memo claims that the equities exception “applies to all documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications.”
Cause of Action asserts in its report that the exceptions make it impossible for federal agencies to meet the 20-day response deadline required by FOIA and needlessly politicize federal agencies and the request process.
The report cites a request by a Los Angeles Times reporter that was delayed two years by the equities review. Such delays not only violate FOIA deadlines; they also infringe on constitutional liberties, the group argues.
"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," the report reads. "This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties."
News of the Craig memo again calls into question President Barack Obama’s sincerity when he promised, as a candidate, to head "the most transparent administration in history.”
Last week, McClatchy newspapers reported that the White House is also withholding over 9,000 documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. Those documents originated in the previous Bush administration, but the Obama White House has refused to release them for more than five years.