I greatly admire Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). He has stepped-up on principle so many times, but his question-comment to Eric Holder yesterday is exceedingly strange. In a Senate committee hearing, Holder was being grilled on Operation Fast and Furious. Grassley wanted Holder to disclose who in the Department of Justice was responsible for leaking the name of a whistleblower. Holder took exception to Grassley talking about it in the hearing. Grassley reminds Holder that he asked Holder personally, to instruct his staff to let Grassley’s staff know, if asking who was punished for leaking the name was an inappropriate question. Now we have confirmed how those things work in Washington D.C. If the Department of Justice intentionally harms a whistleblower, Congress will not question it, if asked not to. See the video below.
GRASSLEY: This document is supposed to be so sensitive that you refused to provide it to Congress, but then someone provided it to the press. The name of the criminal suspect in the document was deleted but the name of the ATF agent was not. This looks like a clear and intentional violation of the Privacy Act, as well as an attempt at whistleblower retaliation.
In a private phone conversation with me, you already told me someone has been held accountable for this, but your staff refused to give my staff any details on who was held accountable and how.
HOLDER: You know it almost pains me… that as you said we had a private conversation, you sent me a handwritten note, that I took very seriously. You and I have worked together on a variety of things. I think I have a good relationship with you. You sent me a handwritten note that I looked at, took seriously, referred to that letter to the OPR or the IG and asked them to try to find out what happened. I called you to try to indicate to you that I had taken that matter seriously, that action had been taken. You know, in a different time in Washington, I’m not sure that what you just said would necessarily been said with everyone here, but so be it. It’s a different time, I guess.
In response to your question…
GRASSLEY: You understand that I told you over the phone, if you want me not to ask this question, I said have your staff inform my staff, because I work closelywith my staff, and, and give the details so that I would know this was an inappropriate question to ask.
HOLDER: With regard to the question, the matter is under investigation, there were a couple of leaks and those leaks are under investigation by the inspector general, by the office of professional responsibility,” said Holder. “I’m not in a position to comment on ongoing investigations.” View the video at The Hill.
A reminder: The Obama administration recently issued a proposal to allow them the right and privilege of lying or hiding documents or information requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bottom line was, they wanted to say they had no documents, when they actually did. Appallingly, the ACLU says this has been going on for decades. After an outpouring of rage over the government thinking it has the right to tamper with a FOIA, the Department of Justice withdrew the proposed regulation.
…On October 30th, the government proposed rule changes under FOIA, which include a provision that …
“when a component applies an exclusion to exclude records from the requirements of the FOIA pursuant to 5 U.S.C.552 (c), the component utilizing the exclusion will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist. The response should not differ in wording from any other response given by the component.”
Hidden in the cold legalese and legislative word-smithing is the following result: if a document could interfere with some sort of enforcement proceedings (very broadly defined by 5 U.S.C. 552 (c)), the agency does not simply deny the request for the document, but actually is instructed to act as if the document does not exist at all.
The Freedom of Information Act does not exist simply for the delight of academics and those who wish to uncover ancient conspiracies: it exists so that the citizenry can keep a keen eye on government. It maintains the quintessentially democratic notion that government works for the people, not vice-versa.