Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two days of congressional hearings demonstrated how the Obama White House shuts down the people’s right to know what their government is doing. Even the usually liberal media are upset that President Obama is keeping the bureaucracy’s inner workings concealed.

The process is intentional. Mr. Obama’s aggressive strategy to transform America depends on stealth. He conceals things until he is ready to roll; then political opponents cannot prepare. Compared to Mr. Obama’s planned extreme makeover of America and our values, the Bruce-to-Caitlyn Jenner transformation looks minor.

Mr. Obama controls matters through political operatives, akin to the “zampolit” political commissars used by the former Soviet Union. The zampolit watched and intimidated military officers and government bureaucrats to assure they always obeyed the will of the Communist Party. Mr. Obama’s operatives assure that nothing becomes public without White House approval. That policy was launched in 2009, although the written directive was concealed until 2014.

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This system undercuts the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Mr. Obama’s White House is “the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered,” according to David Sanger, a 30-year veteran reporter who is chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

Withholding information is key to this president’s agenda, whose key points include:

Conceal major government plans and intentions until after re-election (when voters can no longer touch you);

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Conceal advocacy for today’s sexual revolution, until you unleash your full-blown same-sex and transgender agenda;

Tell people they can keep their doctor and their health plan (plus save $2,500), until you are forced to stop, by overwhelming evidence to the contrary;

Claim toughness on illegal immigration, even as you block enforcement of laws and you set up offices to implement amnesty;

Claim to run the “most transparent administration in history”, even while suppressing FOIA requests and trying to put whistleblowers behind bars.

The Associated Press revealed that Mr. Obama’s team has set a new record for denying, delaying or censoring FOIA requests. Unanswered requests now exceed 200,000, up 55 percent from January, 2014.

During last week’s FOIA hearings, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said that 550,000 FOIA requests have been outright rejected during his three terms in Congress.

“The heart of the backlog,” said the Utah Republican, is a long-concealed White House policy that “the yahoos at the White House have to review every document that falls under FOIA.” He referred to an April 2009 memo from White House Counsel Gregory Craig, requiring agencies to consult with the president’s people before releasing any information involving “White House equities.”

(You can read the infamous memo at: https://causeofaction.org/assets/uploads/2013/06/White-House-memo-equities.pdf?92f52c.)

Only in 2014 did the memo become public, thanks to work by the watchdog group Cause of Action.

At the oversight hearing, Mr. Chaffetz described the results: “No, no, no, don’t fulfill the FOIA request! Send it here to the White House. We have equities! The White House equities!”

Other evidence describes how Mr. Obama’s political appointees and public relations people have injected themselves into the process of reviewing FOIA requests, creating immense delays and lengthy consultations between agencies and White House appointees. Anything that did not cast Mr. Obama in a glowing light was treated as sensitive information. Excuses were devised to deny releasing that information, or agencies just sit on requests — a practice which continues.

The president of watchdog group Judicial Watch, Tom Fitton, said agencies have become “black holes” and his group has been forced to file 225 lawsuits to enforce FOIA. Mr. Fitton labels it a “transparency and corruption crisis.”

The public service FOIA Project counts 517 current lawsuits aimed at shaking records loose, out of 2,878 cases filed since Mr. Obama took office. The biggest portion involve lawsuits against the Department of Justice, with 184 currently active cases.

Defending in court is expensive. A request for a cost calculation was just issued by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and ranking Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Their letter to the comptroller general observes, “Withholding information from the public unless sued undermines the very spirit of FOIA and wastes significant taxpayer money in the process.”

The White House and supportive Democrats are pushing back. They claim that unprecedented numbers of pages have been released — as though the issue were quantity instead of quality. Full-page redaction blackouts are one common ploy.

The claim is also made that funding is insufficient to handle the workload. So why don’t they eliminate those extra layers of political review that make FOIA slower and expensive?

Unfortunately, President Obama will be long gone from the White House before all his sensitive “White House equities” are revealed to the public. Meantime, if he controls what people know, he can control what they think. And that gives him power to control what people do.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook is president of Americans for Less Regulation, AmericansForLessRegulation.com. To subscribe to his free email newsletter, go to eepurl.com/JPojD.

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