Just two days before NPR reported that Attorney General Eric Holder will resign from his job, a U.S. District Judge denied a request by Holder’s Department of Justice to keep secret a listing of documents sought by plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the Operation Fast and Furious (OFF) scandal.
Judicial Watch, which is suing to obtain OFF-related documents the DOJ has refused to release in spite of a 2012 Freedom of Information Act request for the information, touted the ruling on its website, quoting U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, who appeared unconvinced by the DOJ’s argument that it needed more time to produce the OFF list:
Judicial Watch announced today that on September 23, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that by October 22, the Department of Justice (DOJ) must submit a “Vaughn index” listing Fast and Furious materials Judicial Watch sought in its June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent September 2012 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-01510)). A Vaughn index 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.
Bates has given the DOJ until October 22 to cough up the list. Here are his reasons for ending the DOJ stonewall:
The Department first points to Judge [Amy Berman] Jackson’s November 3 deadline in House Committee [lawsuit for DOJ Fast and Furious documents] … But this misreads Judge Jackson’s opinion. As that court reasoned, ‘[s]ince the deadline in Judicial Watch was set first, it makes sense for defendant to complete that effort and then turn his attention to the list that is due in this case’ … This rationale counsels against dramatically shifting the goalposts in this case.
The government argues next that the sheer volume of documents involved in this case requires additional time to produce a Vaughn index, and it relies on the declaration testimony of Allison Stanton, a Director of E-Discovery at the Department of Justice, to substantiate this claim … She produced her declaration as part of the House Committee case, and her testimony describes the Department’s difficulties in responding to the order in that case … Nowhere does Stanton mention the present FOIA litigation or this case’s (much less onerous) Vaughn index requirement.
Finally, the government argues that it must devote significant numbers of attorneys to this matter if it hopes to comply with the current Vaughn index deadline … But the Department has known about its Vaughn index obligations since July 18, 2014 … At best, it means the Department has been slow to react to this Court’s previous Order. At worst, it means the Department has ignored that Order until now.
In light of Tuesday’s ruling, pundits have begun questioning the timing of Holder’s announced departure.
“The timing is interesting,” wrote Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds. “Does Obama think he can get a successor confirmed in the lame-duck session? Is he confident that Dems will still control the Senate next year? Or are the reasons for Holder’s departure sufficiently strong that those considerations don’t matter?”
One piece of speculation from the bully pulpit of the political right seems to indicate the latter: Rush Limbaugh thinks Obama may be preening Holder for a Supreme Court nomination.
Can you nominate someone who’s still in contempt of Congress? If so, that would make for some interesting confirmation hearings.