U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth confirmed Judicial Watch’s central role in exposing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and a home-brew server to conduct official business when he granted limited discovery to the conservative government watchdog March 29.
Judicial Watch could hold an even more influential role if it is able to uncover additional information surrounding the scandals through this discovery process — a legal device litigants use to gain pre-trial evidence under oath from an adverse witness.
Lamberth’s decision was the latest step in litigation that began March 17, 2015, with a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of State for documents concerning public statements made by Obama administration officials in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Discovery was necessary, Lamberth ruled, because “where there is evidence of government wrong-doing and bad faith, as here, limited discovery is appropriate, even though it is exceedingly rare in FOIA cases.”
Judicial Watch’s win in Lamberth’s courtroom was all the more notable because only days before, the nonprofit had won a similar victory in related FOIA litigation before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan.
“This remarkable decision will allow Judicial Watch to explore the shifting stories and misrepresentations made by the Obama State Department and its current and former employees,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said when Lamberth’s decision was made public.
“This Benghazi litigation first uncovered the Clinton email scandal, so it is good to have discovery in this lawsuit which may help the American people find out why our efforts to get Benghazi answers was thwarted by Clinton’s email games,” Fitton said.
The Lamberth and Sullivan discovery decisions put Judicial Watch in an exceedingly powerful position because Clinton, her key aides and other senior members of Obama’s administration will have to respond under oath to multiple questions they would likely rather avoid.
What Judicial Watch exposes through the discovery process could derail Clinton’s once-invincible campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, as well as Obama’s legacy in foreign policy and the war on terrorism. On the other hand, evidence uncovered in the process could clear Clinton’s path to becoming the country’s first woman in the Oval Office.
It’s no coincidence that Judicial Watch is now a fulcrum on which so much depends for some of the nation’s most powerful politicians. The scrappy nonprofit, with 46 employees and a $21 million annual budget, may be the most effective wielder of the FOIA since it became law in 1966.
Harry A. Hammit, longtime editor of the website Access Reports, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Judicial Watch “has done a good job in becoming a sophisticated user of government information disclosed through FOIA. I’ve been impressed at the angle it has pursued in some of its requests. It has become the primary public interest litigator, far surpassing anyone on the liberal side.”
Data compiled by the Department of Justice shows Judicial Watch filed 40 FOIA suits in 2015, making it the most active nonprofit FOIA litigator in the country. Seventeen of the 40 were filed against the Department of State concerning either Benghazi or the Clinton email issues.
The nonprofit is an equal opportunity filer, as reflected in the lengthy list of other federal agencies Judicial Watch has filed suits against, including: the Department of Defense, the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Treasury, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and the Department of Health and Human Services.
As a result, Judicial Watch has been at the center of many of the most controversial issues during the Obama era. Sometimes the group wins, as in documents it pried out of the government on the “Fast and Furious” and IRS targeting scandals. Sometimes Judicial Watch loses, like its failed effort to force the Pentagon to make public photographs of Osama bin Laden’s corpse following his lethal encounter with Seal Team 6.
Win or lose in court, the group’s litigation and advocacy are often felt at the highest levels of the U.S. government. In 2009, for example, then-Obama Special Counsel Norm Eisen invited Fitton to the White House to discuss the group’s FOIA suit for White House vsitor logs. The meeting was not positive but Judicial Watch ultimately won, forcing release of the logs.
“These efforts are enormously helpful to good government and to transparency. Their work is to be applauded,” Rep. [crscore]Mike Pompeo[/crscore], a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, told TheDCNF about Judicial Watch’s work.
Pompeo, a Kansas Republican and retired Army Cavalry officer who graduated first in his class at West Point and later became editor of the Harvard Law Review, added that “FOIA, in the context of our work on the Benghazi committee, has furthered the objective of providing the American people with the truth surrounding the preventable deaths of four Americans who were defending our freedom.”
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