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Court won't sanction FOI officer; rules on Perot privacy interest

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Court won't sanction FOI officer; rules on Perot privacy interest09/11/95 WASHINGTON, D.C.--A federal District Court in mid-August refused to impose…

Court won’t sanction FOI officer; rules on Perot privacy interest

09/11/95

WASHINGTON, D.C.–A federal District Court in mid-August refused to impose sanctions on Department of State Freedom of Information Officer Frank Machak on charges by the Nation magazine that Machak lied to the court about expediting Freedom of Information Act requests in 1992 for the passport files of then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

The Nation claimed that Machak’s 1992 testimony in a case brought by the magazine for similar accelerated processing of its requests for information on potential presidential candidate H. Ross Perot was “not well grounded in fact.” Machak claimed that the request was expedited by “low-level” employees and that as soon as he learned of it he ordered that the expedited processing stop. A subsequent report by the Department’s Inspector General found strong discrepancies in Machak’s statements to the court.

However, Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled after conducting a behind- closed-doors hearing with Machak, that his sworn testimony was persuasive and was not contradicted by any other testimony taken under oath.

Judge Green also denied most of the multiple FOI Act requests filed by the Nation concurrent with Perot’s bid for the presidency. She accepted the agencies’ arguments that the privacy exemptions to the FOI Act applied. Information about a candidate for public office “would do nothing to subject the functioning of the government to more exacting public scrutiny,” she said, finding that privacy interests outweighed the public’s interest in disclosure.

The judge also told the Nation that simply because Perot decided in the past and may decide in the future to run for public office — even the highest public office — does not mean that there is a “public interest,” as that term is used in the FOI Act, in release of records about him.

She said further that the public’s interest in knowing about Perot’s dealings with government was not an interest protected by the FOI Act.

The Nation and Holland had filed requests with the Departments of State, Justice and Defense and with the Central Intelligence Agency seeking records about Perot. Judge Green ordered the CIA, which has never responded, to advise the court of the status of the Nation’s request.

(The Nation Magazine v. Department of State, et. al)