Analysts and lawmakers have long argued that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the latter of whom is still in criminal contempt of Congress, are trying to cover-up details in the deadly “Fast and Furious” scandal, which saw the Obama administration put thousands of weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The latest order could finally shed some light on what the executive branch is trying to hide.
Under the order, issued last month by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice is required to produce a so-called “Vaughn index” of all documents and materials sought by Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The non-profit organization asked for all documents on Fast and Furious being withheld from Congress by the administration under claims of “executive privilege.” While the actual materials will not be released, DOJ will have to provide a detailed listing of all documents it is withholding by October 1, along with information on why the material is not being made available to the public or congressional investigators.
The Justice Department fought hard to block Judicial Watch’s demands, seeking an indefinite delay until the House of Representative’s lawsuit against the administration for the same information was resolved by the courts. The administration has also been battling Congress in an effort to stonewall congressional investigations. In the end, though, the U.S. District Court for D.C. rejected the DOJ’s implausible claims that releasing the information in the Vaughn index would somehow upset “the delicate balance of powers” between Congress and the executive branch.
In fact, the judge noted that Congress and the executive branch, by passing FOIA in 1966, had intended to create the balance that now exists. “To the extent DOJ argues that the mere production of the Vaughn index — not involving the release of any documents in dispute — would alter the historical balance of powers between the branches, any unbalancing would result from FOIA itself, a law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, and which this Court cannot ignore forever,” said the July 18 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Bates announced last week by Judicial Watch.
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Photo shows part of a cache of seized weapons displayed at a news conference in Phoenix, Jan. 25, 2011: AP Images