U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates has denied a request from the Department of Justice to delay the release of a list of Operation Fast and Furious documents being protected under President Obama's assertion of executive privilege.
The list, better known as a Vaughn index, was requested through a June 2012 FOIA filing by government watchdog Judicial Watch. When DOJ didn't respond to the FOIA request in the time required by law, Judicial Watch sued in September 2012, seeking all documents DOJ and the White House are withholding from Congress under executive privilege claims. President Obama made the assertion on June 20, 2012 just moments before Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt. In July 2014, after two years of battling for information, Judge Bates ordered the Department of Justice to release the Vaughn Index by October 1. DOJ responded by asking for a month long delay in releasing the list with a deadline of November 3, just one day before the 2014-midterm elections. That request has been denied. A short delay was granted and DOJ must produce the Vaughn index by October 22.
"The government’s arguments for even more time are unconvincing," Bates said in his ruling. "[S]eventy-five days—plus another twenty-one, based in part on Judiciary Watch’s consent—is enough time for the government to prepare the index that this Court has ordered, given that this matter has been pending for over two years. The Court will therefore extend the Department’s Vaughn index submission deadline to October 22, 2014—and no further."
"The government argues that it must devote significant numbers of attorneys to this matter if it hopes to comply with the current Vaughn index deadline ... But the Department has known about its Vaughn index obligations since July 18, 2014 ... At best, it means the Department has been slow to react to this Court’s previous Order. At worst, it means the Department has ignored that Order until now," he added.
The House Oversight Committee is also suing for the release of the Vaughn index and earlier this month U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered DOJ to produce requested information to lawmakers by November 1.
In the Vaughn index, DOJ must explain why documents have been withheld from Congress and the American people under President Obama's assertion of executive privilege. The requirements for DOJ in handling the information included in the Vaughn index are as follows:
1) identify each document withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.
“The Obama administration failed to game the courts and now will have to account for its Fast and Furious lies. Two federal courts have now rejected Eric Holder’s election-related ploy to keep this information from the American people,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement in reaction to the ruling. “This is a battle that put Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, saw Nixonian assertions of executive privilege by Barack Obama, and a hapless Congress in the face of all this lawlessness. This latest court ruling shows again that Judicial Watch’s independent investigations and lawsuits are more effective than Congress and the rest of media. We are pleased we may get some accountability for Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of others who lost their lives as a result of Obama’s Fast and Furious program.”