Watchdog calls on Trump to fulfill Obama-era FOIA requests

The Washington Examiner reports on CEI urging President Trump to release documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act, and discusses the issues with Chris Horner. 

A free-market watchdog is calling on President Trump to release documents that were sought under the Freedom of Information Act requests that were blocked during the Obama administration, and in particular wants Trump to release documents related to the policies he’s thinking about overturning.

Chris Horner is a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute think tank, which advances “limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” Horner argues that if the Trump administration is as focused on overturning Obama-era rules and regulations as it has promised to be, it only makes sense that the government release documents showing how those rules were created in the first place.

“Before Trump spends one more dime of our money on these initiatives, he should require his appointees ensure a prompt review of what has been denied to the public on key [Obama] administration priorities,” Horner said.

The Trump administration has already overturned key actions of the Obama presidency, including by approving the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. But other promised policy reversals are still on hold. For example, Trump campaigned on a U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, but hasn’t taken any action yet.

This is where Horner’s previous FOIA digging comes in. When Horner filed a FOIA request for State Department documents about the creation of the agreement, he got scores of pages in which most of the information was redacted.

Emails with subject lines such as “Kyoto Negotiating History” and “strategy for next year” were broadly redacted. And the legal reason cited by the government for the redactions – technically known as the b(5) exemption – was widely panned as a “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

For Horner, the release of such heavily redacted documents is all the more ironic given President Obama’s pledges of transparency.

“Substantial blocks of these records should have been released under Obama’s touted and thoroughly disregarded ‘transparency memo’ instructing agencies to release records if they permitted,” he said. “Instead, they used their positions to use FOIA as a withholding statute.”

Similarly, when bureaucrats in the Treasury Department were debating various elements of a possible carbon tax, Horner’s FOIA request produced next to nothing, mainly because of heavy government redaction and withholding.

The question of whether the Trump administration might release documents sought under FOIA has come up in other areas.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch was recently in court trying to force the State Department to conduct a search for Hillary Clinton emails that might have gone missing during her tenure as Secretary of State. Despite the fact that the Trump administration was in place at the time of the most recent hearing, lawyers for the State Department told a judge they would be taking the same action as they had during the Obama administration — namely, seeking a dismissal.

“What’s surprising is the Trump administration is continuing the Obama administration’s legal strategy to obstruct and defend Hillary Clinton’s email practices,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said after the hearing.

Read the full article at The Washington Examiner.