NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Freedom of Information · Oct. 23, 2006
Cheney visitor logs subject to FOIA
Oct. 23, 2006 · A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ordered the Secret Service to produce – or at least identify – two years of log entries of visitors to Vice President Dick Cheney’s White House office and residence by the end of this week.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina also ordered the release of visitor logs for 12 of Cheney’s senior staff members, including former aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was indicted on multiple charges related to the investigation into the identification of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.
In a 25-page written opinion, Urbina granted a preliminary injunction Thursday directing the government to process a Freedom of Information Act request made by The Washington Post more than four months ago. The newspaper had asked for the Secret Service to “expedite its processing” of the request based on an urgent need to inform the public about “‘the degree to which lobbyists and special interest representatives may have influenced policy decisions of the Bush administration’ and the ongoing CIA-leak case investigation” prior to midterm elections.
“[Urbina’s decision] establishes a very important precedent supporting the news media’s ability to quickly obtain information under FOIA when the circumstances justifying expedited processing can be established,” said David Sobel, the Post‘s attorney for this case.
Injunctions have often been used by judges in FOIA cases to block the release of records while an issue is under review by the court. But in this case, the court used an injunction to order the Secret Service to immediately begin responding to the newspaper’s public information request.
“The ability of requesters to obtain preliminary injunctions is critical to making the right to expedited processing truly effective,” Sobel said.
Department of Justice attorneys defending the case on behalf of the Secret Service had argued in court pleadings that the logs, which are electronic and handwritten notations of the entries and exits of all visitors, were in the exclusive custody and control of the Office of the Vice President, and therefore not subject to the federal FOIA.
Urbina disagreed, finding that the logs were created or obtained and then controlled by the Secret Service so that they should be considered “agency records” releasable under FOIA.
The judge still left the door open for the government to object to the release of individual records based on recognized exemptions within FOIA. However, any objections to the disclosure of information must include a detailed document index, along with a written justification for withholding the documents, according to the court’s order.
Phone calls to the Secret Service and to attorneys from the Department of Justice were not returned.
(The Washington Post v. Department of Homeland Security, Media Counsel: David Sobel, Washington, D.C.) — LC