Judge smacks Obama secrecy in unique FOIA case

BY MICHAEL DOYLE

MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU

In a Freedom of Information Act victory, a federal judge has slapped the Obama administration for its secretive ways and ordered officials to turn over a bland-sounding foreign policy document.

Chastising what she called “the government’s unwarranted expansion of the presidential communications privilege at the expense of the public’s interest in disclosure,” U.S. District Judge Ellen Seal Huvelle ruled the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development is not exempt from FOIA.

Judge Huvelle’s 20-page decision took a shot or two, or three, at the Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy.

The government appears to adopt the cavalier attitude that the President should be permitted to convey orders throughout the Executive Branch without public oversight, to engage in what is in effect governance by ‘secret law,'” Huvelle wrote.

The Center for Effective Government, formerly known as OMB Watch, filed a FOIA request in 2011 for the document. It is not classified, and has been widely distributed within executive agencies. The Obama administration nonetheless sought to keep the document to itself, claiming an executive communication privilege under FOIA.

This is an  important case; as Huvelle noted, it’s the first time an administration sought to apply the executive communication privilege to an executive directive. The administration’s legal posture, Huvelle declared at various time, was “limitless” and “unbounded.”

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