WASHINGTON, D.C. — The secret operations of a legal trust fund established to collect money to defray President Bill Clinton’s legal costs can remain secret, a federal District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled in late February.
Judicial Watch, a recently formed nonprofit watchdog group, filed suit in August against Hillary Rodham Clinton, who set up the Presidential Legal Expense Trust, various administration officials, and trustees of the fund after Freedom of Information Act requests were denied.
Judge Royce Lamberth found that because the trustees advise the President on personal matters rather than on official government policy, they do not comprise an advisory committee subject to the openness requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The administrators of the trust, who are not an advisory committee nor an agency are not subject to the FOI Act, the judge ruled.
In the same case, Lamberth ruled, 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 (Exemption 5).
The judge noted that his ruling with regard to the Trust, simply addressed whether the Trust was subject to FACA and that it did not embrace the public-policy, legal and ethical questions triggered by the establishment of a fund by a sitting President to offset his personal legal fees and costs.
(Judicial Watch v. Hillary Rodham Clinton; Counsel: Larry Klayman, Washington, D.C.)
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