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Lynch hearing touches on FOIA issues

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  1. Freedom of Information
AP Photo U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 28. Issues of compliance with the Freedom of…

AP Photo

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 28.

Issues of compliance with the Freedom of Information Act received some attention during Loretta Lynch’s eight-hour confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Lynch said she will work with Congress to improve public access to open records, and described the Freedom of Information Act as “an important tool for the American people.”

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas asked Lynch about “critical comments” made in a FOIA management evaluation of the U.S. Attorney’s office of the Eastern District of New York, where Lynch was in charge.

The evaluation, released several days before the hearing, mentioned numerous FOIA issues, including: not substantially complying with the Executive Office for United States Attorneys Management Standards regarding management of the FOIA program, not responding to records requests in a timely manner, not effectively supervising its FOIA program, and not providing sufficient training to current and newly hired employees.

Lynch said her office immediately corrected these issues and found the evaluation to be very helpful.

“I specifically asked the evaluators to look at our management systems and our support staff systems to make sure we were in compliance and to bring any issues to our attention. They raised this issue, which was of great concern to me. We immediately took steps to rectify the issues that we found within our own office functioning,” Lynch said.

“We have added increased personnel to handle Freedom of Information Act requests. We work closely with the Department of Justice to ensure they are handled as expeditiously as possible. So I actually found it to be a very helpful evaluation process, and I find that I have learned the most when someone has pointed out to me an area which I might improve.”

But witnesses before the committee did not talk about FOIA issues, and mainly seemed to raise concerns about the current attorney general. Former CBS News correspondent and investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson was one of nine witnesses who testified on Thursday, the second day of the hearing. While none of the witnesses raised their hands when asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., if they opposed Lynch, Attkisson did voice her concerns.

“The nominee, if confirmed, should chart a new path to reject the damaging policies and practices that have been used by others in the past. If we aren’t brave enough to confront these concerns, it could do serious long-term damage to the supposedly free press,” Attkisson said in her opening statement.

Attkisson, who is currently suing the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly hacking her computer, criticized the federal government’s handling of public records.

Calling it “pretty much pointless and senseless now,” she suggested that FOIA is being “used as a tool to obstruct and delay the release of public information. It’s no good. FOIA is extremely broken at the federal level.”

Like Attkisson, some committee members, too, wonder if Lynch will follow the same trail as Attorney General Holder. Throughout the hearing, Lynch assured the committee that “if confirmed as attorney general, I will be myself. I will be Loretta Lynch.”

The committee will vote and make its decision on Lynch’s confirmation in the upcoming weeks.