The Obama administration lost a crucial legal battle on July 18 when a federal court ordered the White House to release previously withheld information on Operation Fast and Furious to the government watchdog group Judicial Watch.
According to a press released issued Thursday, the court case stems from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (that originally began as a FOIA request) filed by Judicial Watch in 2012 to obtain all documents that the president has withheld from Congress under claims of executive privilege.
The decision, issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, would require the Department of Justice to turn over a “Vaughn Index” to Judicial Watch for the documents the group requested.
A Vaughn Index, according to the Office of Government Information Services, must: “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 U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision comes after a 16-month delay on the lawsuit due to a request by the Department of Justice for an almost indefinite hold on the case. The DOJ claimed that Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit interferes with its legal case with the House Oversight committee over the same documents relating to the botched Fast and Furious operation.
District Court Judge John D. Bates, who authored the court’s decision in favor of the government watchdog, dismissed the claim that releasing a Vaughn Index for the requested materials would interfere with the litigation with the House Oversight committee.
“Because many of the issues to be resolved in this case do not overlap with the House committee, and because resolving those issues will not risk upsetting the delicate balance of powers in subpoena disputes between the political branches, the Court will require DOJ to produce a Vaughn index here,” reads Judge Bates’ July 18 decision.
The judge also noted how unusual the circumstances were surrounding the White House’s refusal to even issue a Vaughn Index on the documents in question.
“To the extent DOJ argues that the mere production of the Vaughn index—not involving the release of any documents in dispute—would alter the historical balance of powers between the branches, any unbalancing would result from FOIA itself, a law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, and which this Court cannot ignore forever,” Bates’ wrote.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, declared this ruling a “great victory” for the American public Thursday.
“It’s a great victory, and in many ways it may solve the dispute between Congress and the Obama administration, and more importantly, it advances the public interest,” Fitton told The Daily Caller.
The Judicial Watch president explained why his group filed a FOIA request and how it would’ve resulted in the public knowing important details on documents that Obama has refused to release and give any information about.
“We knew — as a result of filing the request and that if we had to file a lawsuit –that we would at least get a listing of what documents were an issue and details about those documents that would provide information that the public did not have and that Congress was specifically seeking,” he said.
Fast and Furious refers to a joint DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation that allowed guns to get into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Some of the weapons associated with the operation were later implicated in the murder of a border patrol agent.
The White House has until October 1 to issue a Vaughn Index of the documents Judicial Watch has requested.