Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group that has successfully sued the federal government in multiple instances for unlawful Freedom of Information (FOI) responses, is taking on a new case. This one is on behalf of Fast and Furious whistleblower: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Agent John Dodson.
The complaint filed against the Department of Justice last week seeks a range of communications, including emails between former Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler and reporter Katherine Eban, who authored a now-discredited article in Fortune that attacked Dodson and defended his superiors in the infamous gunwalking case.
The lawsuit states that Dodson filed three FOI requests on Sept. 24, 2012; that under the law, the Justice Department owed him responses by Nov. 21, 2012; and that more than a year and a half later, it hasn’t provided the required materials. The Justice Department has been equally unhelpful regarding longstanding FOI requests from me regarding Fast and Furious and other cases.
It is not up to the federal government’s discretion as to whether it makes available public documents. The law requires appropriate disclosure whether requests are made by members of the media or the public.
In a separate lawsuit, Judicial Watch recently obtained documents related to healthcare.gov that the Department of Health and Human Services had improperly withheld from the public and, in some instances, from Congress.
In 2011, ATF Special Agent Dodson stepped forward in an on camera interview with me to expose the federal agency’s controversial gunwalking practice, which secretly let thousands of weapons fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
According to Judicial Watch, evidence suggests Schmaler at the Justice Department, which oversees ATF, “leaked information about Dodson to Eban, including Dodson’s confidential personnel file. The alleged purpose was to smear Dobson’s name and to undermine his credibility.”
In May 2013, the Justice Department Inspector General issued a report that stated senior officials at the Justice Department, including Schmaler, discussed discrediting Dodson.
Schmaler resigned in March 2013 after it was revealed that she had communicated with the liberal blog Media Matters to allegedly discredit Dodson and others, including journalists who investigated Obama administration scandals. Schmaler has gone on to work for ASGK, a public relations firm founded by former Obama advisor David Axelrod.
Through Judicial Watch, Dodson issued the following statement: “It is disappointing that I have to sue to receive information about how my employer provided personal and confidential information about me to eager reporters willing to tell the administration’s side of the story.”
The Fortune article by Eban disparaged Dodson and incorrectly claimed ATF “never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.” That’s despite the fact that top government officials acknowledged it had happened and Attorney General Eric Holder eventually ordered the practice stopped.
When an independent Inspector General issued a report confirming the intentional gunwalking, the House Oversight Committee demanded a retraction of Eban’s Fortune article calling it “irresponsible journalism.” A spokesman for the committee said Eban “selectively omitted key known facts…wrongly smeared agency whistleblowers and foolishly accepted as fact contentions from a tainted source that guns were never walked.”
Eban defended her work in an online column for Fortune stating that, “The facts presented by Fortune do not appear to be in dispute” but that “the Inspector General has drawn a different conclusion from them.”
Other cases launched by Judicial Watch include:
Oct. 11, 2011, Judicial Watch sued the Justice Department and ATF for Fast and Furious records submitted to the House Committee on Oversight.
June 6, 2012, Judicial Watch sued ATF for communications between ATF officials and Kevin O’Reilly, former Obama White House Director of North American Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.
Sept. 13, 2012, Judicial Watch sued the Justice Department for records regarding President Obama’s claim of executive privilege after Holder’s refusal to produce records for the House Oversight Committee.
Sept. 5, 2013, Judicial Watch sued the Justice Department for communications with the House Oversight Committee relating to settlement discussions in the 2012 contempt of Congress lawsuit against Holder.
It should not be necessary to file lawsuits to obtain public documents from federal officials. But the federal government routinely obstructs and delays requests for public information, sometimes for years. The federal government uses your tax dollars to defend the lawsuits, and to pay any penalties and plaintiff’s legal fees for its unlawful responses.