The Freedom of Information Act is essential to any free society but essential with this administration. As the taxpaying public that pays the salaries for these members to represent us, we have a right to know what is being done in the people’s house. The Freedom of Information Act is the law that provides this access. This threat should be taken seriously.
Story by Michelle Cottle
From the article: “…The health-care clusterfudge continues. Senator John McCain has brain cancer. President Trump throws another public tantrum. Russia, Russia, Russia.
That about covers the Big Political Headlines of the week. Now for something really sexy: the creeping assault on the Freedom of Information Act….
This is another one of those ticky-tacky, below-the-radar issues that may sound like a nonprescription substitute for Ambien but is, practically speaking, super important—especially in the Age of Trump.
FOIA is what enables regular people to pester powerful federal agencies into handing over information about what they’ve been up to. FOIA’s website calls it “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Though a tad grandiose, that characterization is pretty much accurate. And never has such a tool been quite so vital as with the current White House, which has adopted a policy of unabashedly lying about pretty much everything….
It’s hardly surprising then that government accountability groups balked when, in early April, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling directed multiple agencies under his committee’s jurisdiction to start classifying all communications with the committee as official “congressional records” not subject to FOIA…
…FOIA applies only to executive agency records. Congressional records are a different creature entirely (as are presidential records), enjoying greater privacy protections. But not every document that has been created by or sent to Congress qualifies as a congressional record….
“What the courts have in the past said is that you can’t put a blanket, before-the-fact designation” on such a broad category. As such, Steven told me, Hensarling’s directive is an egregious, possibly illegal case of overreach.
Hensarling’s letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wound up in the press for all to peruse. The chairman indeed appears intent on sweeping all agency communications with his committee out of the public eye… This would include not just memos to or from the committee or documents generated by an agency in response to a committee request. Hensarling also wants to reclassify pre-existing agency records that are compiled and sent over to the Hill for any reason….
Basically, if anyone at an agency is interacting with the finance committee in any way, Hensarling wants to make sure that you can’t find out any details about it...
You can see how this might not be great in terms of promoting government accountability……. So to review: What you have here is a conservative group suing a conservative Justice Department for ignoring a FOIA request concerning a conservative House chairman’s efforts to kneecap FOIA.
Even my head hurts at this point….
… But make no mistake: The ultimate goal is to stop lawmakers from undercutting one of the key tools the public has for keeping an eye on its government….
… This is in no way to suggest Hensarling is the only lawmaker looking for a little extra cover. CoAI has a near identical suit already making its way through the courts, stemming from a squabble it got into with the Obama-era IRS’s dealings with Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. “The JCT basically did the same thing as what Hensarling is doing here, with respect to the IRS,” said Steven. The ruling on that case, he noted, should provide a good indication of how this one will fare.
It’s as inevitable as Trump’s next Twit-fit: Those in power dislike the public nosing around in their business and are forever looking to shield themselves from scrutiny. But when that happens, the public needs to push back. Hard. No matter which team is in charge. And no matter how unsexy the details of the battle may be…”