|NMU||D.C. CIRCUIT||Freedom of Information||May 26, 2000|
White House free for now to act outside Privacy Act
- An appeals panel refused the government’s request that it quickly reject a judge’s decision that President Clinton violated the Privacy Act when he released to the news media flattering letters from presidential accuser Kathleen Willey that were kept in White House files.
A federal appeals court panel said May 26 that it did “not take seriously” claims by the Executive Office of the President that the White House would be laboring under threat of criminal prosecution after a federal District Court ruling that President Clinton had criminally violated the Privacy Act.
Except for the ruling of a federal District Court in one case, the White House remains free to adhere to the position it has held for many years that it is not subject to the Privacy Act. The District Court has no “free-wheeling authority” to run the affairs of the White House outside the case before it, the appeals panel said. The matter can be addressed routinely the court said, through normal appeal procedures.
That late March ruling by federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth found the White House criminally violated the Privacy Act when the President gave the news media copies of flattering letters written by Presidential accuser Kathleen Willey that were kept in White House files. The President gave those letters to the news media after Willey, in an interview on 60 Minutes, accused him of accosting her with unwanted sexual advances. Willey is not a party to this lawsuit.
The government asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (D.C. Cir.) to issue a writ of mandamus finding that the White House is not subject to the Privacy Act because it exercises an advisory, not an agency, role in government. It said that Judge Lamberth’s finding would chill the President’s ability to act openly.
Judicial Watch, which initiated the case at the District Court, is a watchdog organization whose clients include individuals fired from the White House Travel Office. It claims that the administration released FBI records on those employees in what has been called “filegate.” in violation of the Privacy Act. It further claims as a part of that case that releases to the news media of information on Linda Tripp and Willey constitute a “pattern and practice” of violating the law. Willey was not a party to this lawsuit.
Language in both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act states that those laws cover the Executive Office of the President.
(In re: Executive Office of the President)
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press