Clinton legal defense fund trustees not “advisory committee”
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Trustees of a fund set up to defray personal legal fees and related expenses incurred by President and Mrs. Clinton after he assumed office are not an advisory committee subject to the openness requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (D.C. Cir.) ruled in late February, affirming the decision last year of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C.
The judges ruled that the Presidential Legal Expense Trust Fund is not an advisory committee subject to FACA because it does not transmit advice on particular public policy matters.
Judicial Watch, the watchdog public interest group based in Washington, D.C., which brought the lawsuit, immediately vowed to appeal. Larry Klayman, Judicial Watch chairman, said in a press release that “allowing our president to beg for money while in office” is “government policy oriented.”
Judicial Watch filed suit in August 1994 against Hillary Rodham Clinton, who set up the Presidential Legal Expense Trust, various administration officials, and trustees of the fund after its Freedom of Information Act requests were denied. The watchdog group said that the trustees’ actions must be public under FACA.
In February 1995 Judge Royce Lamberth ruled the trustees advise the President on personal matters rather than on official government policy and so do not comprise an advisory committee subject to FACA. The administrators of the trust, who are not an advisory committee, are also not subject to the FOI Act, the judge ruled.
In the same case, Lamberth ruled, after reviewing records in chambers, that the Office of Government Ethics had properly withheld records about formation of the trust, including draft responses to congressional inquiries, under the FOI Act’s exemption for internal decisionmaking.
The appeals panel said that the term “policy” implies choice and the function of an advisory committee is to give advice that helps decision makers choose the direction of government behavior. Advice on the legal or ethical implications of presidential fund-raising for personal purposes does not involve “policy,” even though the problems presented might implicate governmental concerns, the panel wrote. (Judicial Watch v. Hillary Rodham Clinton; Counsel: Larry Klayman, Washington, D.C.)