by Tom Fitton –
Two months ago, on March 2, 2015, that The New York Times reported then-Secretary Clinton used at least one non-“state.gov” email account to conduct official government business during her tenure as the Secretary of State. It also was reported that Secretary Clinton stored these records on a non-U.S. government server at her home in Chappaqua, New York. For two months, other than one Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by one media outlet, official Washington has sputtered outrage but no strong steps have been taken to ensure accountability for Hillary Clinton’s and the Obama administration’s brazen lawlessness. Federal records, many surely classified, were mishandled, stolen, secreted, and supposedly destroyed in violation of several criminal and civil federal laws. The failure of leadership on this massive corruption issue did not stop Judicial Watch. We’ve been stepping into this gap for some time for the American people concerned about a government and politicians out of control.
Indeed, JW shook up Washington this week with a historic legal effort that shows your JW is boldly taking the lead in uncovering and curtailing the escalating corruption at the highest levels of government. This week, our expert team of attorneys filed seven – yes, seven – new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. State Department to obtain the release of documents about the Clinton email scandal, including the emails of her top aide Huma Abedin, and records about the Benghazi and Clinton Foundation scandals. JW filed one of the lawsuits on Monday, May 5 and six on Tuesday, May 6. (Last week, Judicial Watch also filed a lawsuit for records on Hillary Clinton’s use of an iPad and iPhone.)
As we have reported in the past, JW already has at least 18 active lawsuits, 10 of which are active in federal court, and about 160 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that could be affected by Mrs. Clinton and her staff’s use of secret email accounts to conduct official government business. In Judicial Watch’s various FOIA lawsuits, our lawyers Judicial Watch have informed attorneys for the Obama administration that Hillary Clinton’s and any other secret accounts used by State employees should be secured, recovered, and searched. Judicial Watch’s litigation against the State Department has already exposed key documents about both the Benghazi and Clinton cash scandals.
But these bold legal actions were a prelude to a massive legal effort without compare. This latest raft of lawsuits gets to the heart of several Clinton/Obama scandals:
The seven new Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuits ask federal courts to require the Obama administration obey the law and turn over:
• Non-“state.gov” emails of former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00684)).
Judicial Watch is seeking access to all emails of official State Department business received or sent by former Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin from January 1, 2009, through February 1, 2013, using a non-“state.gov” email address.
• Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00687)).
Judicial Watch is seeking all emails sent or received by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her official capacity as secretary of State, as well as all emails by other State Department employees to Secretary Clinton regarding her non-“state.gov” email address.
• Non-“state.gov” emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00689)).
Judicial Watch is seeking access to records concerning the use and expense of a non-“state.gov” email address and server domain by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Such records include, but are not limited to, records concerning security, classification, preservation, and compliance with the Federal Records Act and/or the Freedom of Information Act.
• The names of all State Department employees using non-“state.gov” email addresses to conduct official business (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00690)).
Judicial Watch is seeking access to all records that identify the number and names of all current and former officials, officers, or employees of the U.S. Department of State from January 20, 2009, to the present who used email addresses other than their assigned “state.gov” email addresses to conduct official State Department business and the policies in place to ensure that emails were searched for responsiveness to FOIA requests.
• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s communications during the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, during which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith were killed. A second assault targeted a nearby compound, killing two government contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00692)).
Judicial Watch is seeking all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton concerning the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as well as all communications between State Department employees and members of Congress, congressional staff or the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
• State Department policies, procedures and review process enacted to ensure against conflicts of interest between foreign interests and the Clinton Foundation, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00688)).
Judicial Watch is seeking records that identify the policies and/or procedures in place to ensure that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s personal or charitable financial relationships with foreign leaders, foreign governments, and business entities posed no conflict of interest to her role as secretary of State; and all records related to the State Department’s review of donations to the Clinton Foundation for potential conflicts of interest with former Secretary Clinton’s role as secretary of State.
• Hillary Clinton’s resignation as secretary of State (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00691)).
Judicial Watch is seeking access to all records completed and/or signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding her resignation from the office of secretary of State, as well as other State Department employees. Such records include, but are not limited to a “separation statement” signed by Hillary Clinton upon her resignation as Secretary of State.
A weak and hapless Congress, a compromised Justice Department, and a pliant liberal media won’t do the work of taking on Clinton and Obama corruption- and JW is happy to continue its leadership role in exposing government malfeasance. There is a rule-of-law and transparency crisis in Washington. But our new FOIA lawsuits are intended to make certain that Mrs. Clinton and her co-conspirators in the Obama administration will be held accountable for the violations of transparency law, criminal destruction and mishandling of government records, their Benghazi lies, and the Clintons’ continuing abuse of office for personal and political gain.
I want to assure you that as massive – and historical – as this is, we are just getting started. This is just the first round of newly planned lawsuits, since (as it won’t surprise our readers to learn) the State Department, and other Obama agencies, have failed to respond as required by law.
These lawsuits come just as former President Bill Clinton has entered the fray to explain away his wife’s ethical lapses and the many conflicts of interest involving foreign donations to his family’s foundation. You doubtlessly have heard President Clinton dishonestly talk in media interviewsabout how he and Hillary have done nothing “knowingly inappropriate” (which translates as “I’m guilty, but have mercy.”). He said he’ll continue to accept cash payments from whatever and whomever because “I gotta pay our bills” and that the Clintons are really victims who are being held to an unfair standard.
In typical Clintonian fashion, his complaint is the exact opposite of truth. In fact, few citizens, businesses, or even politicians would think they could use their public office to make themselves tens of millions of dollars from foreign potentates and then steal, destroy, and secret government records that could shed light on the illicit moneymaking! Bill’s bellyaching about explaining his, Hillary’s, and Chelsea’s monumental grifting might give pause to the friendly liberal media and Democratic partisans running the Justice Department. But, as you can see with our flotilla of new federal lawsuits, JW won’t be deterred by the latest round of Clinton evasions.
Skiing and Politicking on the Taxpayer Dime
When Daniel Craig returns as Agent 007 James Bond this fall, he will be appearing in one of the most expensive spy films ever made. SPECTRE, like many Bond films before it, includes a high-speed ski chase. Fortunately, the American taxpayer wasn’t forced to pony up for the elaborate production’s ski escapade costs. (I’m sure the producers of any movie would happily have accepted the financial support.) Unfortunately, however, the taxpayers were forced to pay, and pay through the nose, for Michelle Obama’s ski weekend escapade in pricey, trendy Aspen, Colorado, this past February. This is what we learned in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we made to the U.S. Air Force on February 18, 2015. We asked for:
• Any and all records concerning mission taskings relevant to First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to Aspen, Colorado.
• Any and all records concerning transportation costs.
• Any and all passenger manifests for the trip.
The records we obtained from the U.S. Air Force tell us that the First Lady’s trip cost us all a pretty penny. According to the newly released records, the transportation costs for the four-day trip to Aspen were based on a flight cost of $7,712 an hour for the First Lady, her daughters, and support personnel in the Gulfstream aircraft (as opposed to the $700 that the average American can spend for a roundtrip flight all the way to Europe and back). Not included were the attendant costs for U.S. Secret Service personnel, accommodations, meals, rental cars, lift tickets for skiing at Buttermilk, and related expenses. The $57,068.80 tab Mrs. Obama and her daughters ran up in travel expenses alone for their weekend trip is more than 14 times what the average American of four spends for an entire week-long vacation.
It has been apparent to us for some time now that the Obamas abuse taxpayer money with unnecessarily luxurious vacations and travel. How many times did the Obama family travel to Aspen prior to the presidency? Misusing the perks of presidency to travel to luxury hot-spots is an abuse that must end. If Congress is looking to save tax dollars, they might consider trimming the platinum travel budgets of this and future presidents.
Apparently, the ski trip was intended to be low-key, and it may have stayed under the radar had it not been for the Obama’s motorcade having been forced to stop for a two-car collision ahead of them, which closed the road for 40 minutes. Though the Obamas had been allowed to “sneak through while they waited on tow trucks,” according to Aspen Police Chief Brian Olsen, the presence of the First Lady was noticed. The Obama family reportedly stayed at the home of Jim and Paula Crown, a Chicago couple who have been major campaign contributors to President Obama throughout his political career.
Barack and Michelle Obama and other members of their family have traveled more during his presidency than any other first couple, including extensive and costly trips to Spain, Africa, South America, and China, accompanied by staff and often by friends.
Including the Aspen trip, government records indicate that the beyond-first-class travel of the Obamas and Vice President Joe Biden have cost the American people well over $56 million.
The Obamas have trained Vice President Biden well on how to use tax dollars for personal and political use. Air Force records we received in response to a September 19, 2014, FOIA show that Biden’s September 3, 2014, trip to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire cost taxpayers $17,025 in transportation expenses. Biden was in New Hampshire to campaign for Democratic Senate and House candidates. We had asked for:
1) Any and all records concerning mission taskings of Vice President Biden’s September 3, 2014 trip to New Hampshire;
2) Any and all records concerning transportation costs for Vice President Biden’s September 3, 2014 trip to New Hampshire; and
3) Any and all passenger manifests (DD-2131) for Vice President Biden’s September 3, 2014 trip to New Hampshire.
Biden’s cost included three hours of flight time at $5,675 an hour, which does not include Secret Service expenses or costs incurred by local law enforcement in New Hampshire. While the Obama administration claimed Biden was in New Hampshire to celebrate shipyard workers, it’s clear that he was in campaign mode. London’s Daily Mail reported that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud of Maine, all joined Biden at the shipyard.
And tax dollars are sacrificed on the altar of Mr. Biden’s political ambition.
CNN Politics reported, “The vice president, who’s mulling a 2016 presidential bid, made his remarks at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in a speech about the economy. He was accompanied on stage by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who’s running for re-election this year.” The dirty little not-so-secret is that candidates, campaigns, and political parties pay nearly nothing for the political use of Air Force One (or Air Force Two).
The Obama family and Biden mistake the Air Force for Uber. The scam of presidents and vice presidents using tax dollars to subsidize candidates running for office must end. Did Shaheen reimburse taxpayers for a reasonable portion of the costs Biden to campaign for her? Our military has been decimated and is under strain. Biden might want to consider this when he next considers using Air Force Two for a trip to New Hampshire or Iowa as he runs for the presidency.
Your JW has been on top of these taxpayer-funded junkets for some time now.
We previously reported that flight costs for President Obama’s Labor Day 2014 weekend trips for fundraising, personal business, and politicking came to a total of $1,539,402.10 in taxpayer-paid transportation expenses. A break-down of these costs obtained from FOIA told us that:
• Flights for Obama’s 2014 Labor Day weekend fundraising trips to Westchester, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island, cost taxpayers $527,192.50
• Transportation for Obama’s round-trip flight from D.C. to Westchester, New York, to attend a wedding cost taxpayers $358,490.90
• The flight for Obama’s trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to speak at “Laborfest 2014” cost taxpayers $653,718.70
Unfortunately, the White House does not appear inclined toward a more fiscally responsible approach to travel as the Obama years wind down. So look for the tab to continue to skyrocket as the high-flying couple attempt to squeeze every last cent they can out of the White House travel budget. And with a presidential campaign heating up for Mr. Biden and other Democrats, your tax dollars will increasingly be the fuel for wasteful travel.
Are Courts Above the Law?
We have a president who thinks he can rewrite the law on his own. This has long been the practice of too many activist judges, but rarely have courts simply ignored a core provision of a law governing their operations. And that is why we filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review a Fourth Circuit ruling that conflicts with the Three-Judge Act by allowing only one judge to rule in a critical Maryland gerrymandering case. The Judicial Watch brief was filed to support the petitioners in Stephen M. Shapiro et al. v Bobbie S. Mack et al.
The Three-Judge Court Act, dating back more than a century, requires that three-judge panels must hear all constitutional challenges to legislative redistricting unless, according to past Supreme Court rulings, the case is “obviously frivolous,” “essentially fictitious,” “wholly insubstantial,” or “obviously without merit.” Yet, in 2003, the Fourth Circuit Court began to ignore this precedent in determining that a single judge could decide not to convene a three-judge panel if he determined the case was not “plausible.” The Fourth Circuit again applied the same contrarian standard in its 2014 ruling against plaintiffs Shapiro, Benisek, and Pycha.
Congress and the courts have recognized the vital importance of safeguarding voters against gerrymandering abuses by passing and upholding the Three-Judge Court Act. The Fourth Circuit subverts this law by allowing one judge inordinate power to effectively decide whether voters can challenge how a state draws congressional and state legislative districts. And JW’s position is that no one is above the law, most especially the courts.
In November 2013, Shapiro, Benisek, and Pycha sued Bobbie Mack (the chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections) and Linda Lamone (the state administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, alleging that the 2011 congressional districts established by the Maryland General Assembly violated their constitutional rights. When a single district court judge dismissed the suit, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In October 2014, the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court ruling, denying the plaintiffs an oral hearing before a three-judge panel. In February 2015, the plaintiffs filed a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to theU.S. Supreme Court.
Our legal team argues that the Fourth Circuit decision “raises an important issue of federal election law that should be heard by this Court,” adding:
In particular, Judicial Watch is concerned that the Fourth Circuit’s ruling violates the Three-Judge Court Act and will allow states to delay judicial review of gerrymandered redistricting plans that disenfranchise voters and violate the Constitution. Judicial Watch has represented parties in two recent cases in Maryland concerning a ballot referendum on the state’s gerrymandered redistricting plan. Moreover, Judicial Watch may wish to be involved in challenges to gerrymandering on behalf of members or clients in the future, and believes the federal judiciary should not be erecting further obstacles to review.
We also point out that the Fourth Circuit’s circumvention of federal law results in “an allocation of authority” to one federal court judge that “cannot be squared with Congress’s judgment-recognized by this Court and others-that apportionment challenges and other types of three-judge cases are too important to be decided in the first instance by a single judge. Nor is the difference between one and three judges merely a formality.”
Let’s review some recent history to help drive home the importance of this case and what it means for average voters across the country.
Congress intended redistricting and other constitutional challenges under laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be heard under the “exceptional procedure” of a special three-judge panel. In 1976, Congress strengthened the Three-Judge Act by specifically ensuring that redistricting cases were handled by such panels in order “to assure more weight and greater deliberation by not leaving the fate of such litigation to a single judge.” As we say in our amicus, by instead using “motions to dismiss” to arbitrarily limit access to three-judge courts, the Fourth Circuit has “turned the Three-Judge Court Act’s purpose and framework on its head.”
The Three-Judge Court Act allows appeals from the district court three-judge panels to go directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the federal circuit courts of appeals. This statute assures a speedy resolution to this important class of cases:
And when the clock is always counting down towards the next election, such a delay can control whether the alleged constitutional violation can be remedied or if it is something that a state’s voters simply must swallow.
The 2013 lawsuit by Shapiro, Benisek, and Pycha challenged a congressional districting plan signed into law by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley in October 2011.
Critics at the time charged that the new congressional map was specifically designed to enhance the power of select incumbents while minimizing the voting power of minorities, rural voters and Republicans. The Washington Post editorialized: “The map, drafted under Mr. O’Malley’s watchful eye, mocks the idea that voting districts should be compact or easily navigable. The eight districts respect neither jurisdictional boundaries nor communities of interest. To protect incumbents and for partisan advantage, the map has been sliced, diced, shuffled and shattered, making districts resemble studies in cubism.”
Your JW has been out in front of this case for some time now. We first entered the Maryland redistricting battle on August 10, 2012, when we represented MDPetitions.com and Delegate Neil Parrott in the successful lawsuit to block a move by the state’s Democrat party to have an Election Day voter referendum on the state’s controversial gerrymandering plan removed from the ballot. Three weeks later, Judicial Watch again represented Parrott in filing a complaint against Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough and the State Board of Elections challenging the misleading wording of the ballot question.
Whether or not the Supreme Court decides to review the case (grants cert), Judicial Watch isn’t walking away from the gerrymandering abuse in Maryland. You can expect more court action to uphold constitutional protections of citizens’ voting rights from shady state politicians who treat entire communities and voters like pieces on a game board.
Tom Fitton – President