The Obama administration continues to drag its feet by refusing to release important information about the deal with Iran –- information the American public wants and deserves.
My organization, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the U.S. Department of State last month to get to the bottom of why the State Department deleted press briefing video footage that appeared to confirm that the Obama administration lied about its dealings with Iran. You can imagine what happened.
Nothing. Predictably, there’s only been silence from the State Department – no response to our FOIA requests.
That left the ACLJ with no choice but to go to federal court to file a lawsuit against the State Department demanding that it follow the law and provide key records shedding light on its cover-up of the Obama administration’s Iran deal.
Last month, Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen reported that the U.S. Department of State had deleted a portion of its official video – the portion containing the spokesperson’s acknowledgment to Rosen that the Obama administration had lied to the American public about when it began its secret bilateral talks with Iran.
The timing is important because the Obama administration maintained it waited until after an allegedly more moderate regime was elected in 2013 before engaging Iran. This was part of its strategy in selling the “Iran Deal” to the American people and to Congress.
At the Daily Press Briefing on December 2, 2013, Rosen asked spokesperson Jen Psaki if the talks had really begun as far back as 2011, as Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes recently admitted to the New York Times. Here is what Rosen said, referencing a prior press briefing in February 2013:
QUESTION: — about Iran. And with your indulgence, I will read it in its entirety for the purpose of the record and so you can respond to it.
“Rosen: There have been reports that intermittently, and outside of the formal P5+1 mechanisms, the Obama administration, or members of it, have conducted direct secret bilateral talks with Iran. Is that true or false?”
“Nuland: We have made clear, as the Vice President did at Munich, that in the context of the larger P5+1 framework, we would be prepared to talk to Iran bilaterally. But with regard to the kind of thing that you’re talking about on a government-to-government level, no.”
That’s the entirety of the exchange.
Rosen followed up with a valiant attempt to get a straight answer. Finally:
QUESTION: Let me try it one last way, Jen —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — and I appreciate your indulgence.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?
MS. PSAKI: James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that. . . .
As Rosen reported, the official State Department video record of that Daily Press Briefing had been altered and that portion of the Briefing deleted.
The administration originally claimed the deletion was a “glitch” – but after receiving the ACLJ’s FOIA request and under increasing pressure from a skeptical media, it admitted the deletion was not a glitch, but was instead “deliberate.”
Our FOIA requests – and now lawsuit – are aimed at finding out who in the Obama administration was involved in censoring an official State Department press briefing video to delete an embarrassing admission that the administration lied about its Iran deal negotiations.
The ACLJ carefully crafted its requests to avoid arguable claims that the records we seek are exempted from disclosure. For example, the ACLJ did not seek sensitive records of the actual Iran negotiation, which would undoubtedly be withheld under the FOIA “foreign affairs” exemption.
Instead, the ACLJ only requested records addressing the cover-up – the decision to delete portions of the video and the decision to call it a “glitch.” FOIA provides no exemption for cover-ups.
As the ACLJ alleges in the complaint:
As of the date of this Complaint, [the State Department] has failed to produce any records responsive to the request, indicated when any responsive records will be produced, or demonstrated that responsive records are exempt from production.
Sadly, the FOIA foot-dragging in this case is symptomatic of an administration which promised to be the most transparent in history – while in reality – it is anything but transparent.
A new study by the Associated Press released a new analysis of government data and the results are stunning.
“The Obama administration set a record for the number of times its federal employees told disappointed citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn't find a single page requested under the Freedom of Information Act,” the AP reported.
And here’s the unbelievable finding: the Obama administration denied 77 percent of FOIA requests in 2015 – a new record – and an increase of 12 percent since the president’s first year in office.
According to the AP:
“In more than one in six cases, or 129,825 times, government searchers said they came up empty-handed last year. Such cases contributed to an alarming measurement: People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record. In the first full year after President Barack Obama's election, that figure was only 65 percent of cases.”
The AP analysis covered some 100 federal agencies. And it’s clear the failure to comply with such FOIA requests is widespread among many agencies.
“The FBI couldn't find any records in 39 percent of cases, or 5,168 times. The Environmental Protection Agency regional office that oversees New York and New Jersey couldn't find anything 58 percent of the time. U.S. Customs and Border Protection couldn't find anything in 34 percent of cases.”
Astonishing. So, for all intents and purposes, it appears the policy inside the Obama administration – just ignore the FOIA requests, or if you do respond, provide censored information.
This is a horrible track record for an administration that continues to insult the American people by claiming it is the most transparent administration in history.
This incident involving the Iran deal is not the only time the Obama administration has scrubbed records to conform them to fit its narrative.
This spring, reports surfaced that the White House had manipulated video to delete the French president’s reference to “Islamist terror,” and just this month, the administration censored the Orlando 911 transcript to delete Omar Mateen’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State and translate “Allah” to “God.”
The ACLJ recently submitted FOIA requests to obtain records showing who was behind the decision to censor the 911 transcript and the reasons for the censorship.
This administration’s track record in courts – which have repeatedly slapped down executive power grabs, foul play, unreasonable positions, and even bald-faced misrepresentations – is not good.
The ACLJ is prepared to litigate this new FOIA lawsuit in order to enforce the rule of law and shed light on this shameful cover-up.
The manipulation, the hiding, has to stop. The ACLJ’s legal team intends to hold this administration accountable by bringing these very troubling facts to light.
The law protects the right to know. That’s exactly why the ACLJ has taken the Obama administration to court so the American people can find out the truth behind President Obama’s deal with Iran.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.