Written by Tom Fitton
If you are a regular reader of the Weekly Update, you know that Judicial Watch has been the leading force in uncovering the unethical and dangerous connections between the Obama administration and a wide swath of radical leftwing special interest groups. These groups are helping to create and to advance in secret illicit government policies ranging from stealth amnesty to reverse discrimination to attacks on election integrity.
On April 30, 2013, we continued our effort to expose these unholy alliances when we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) for “all records of communications” between the DOJ and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) relating to a 2012 lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund.
Not surprisingly, the ACLU/Mi Familia Vota lawsuit was aimed at preventing the state of Florida from taking some reasonable steps to remove ineligible voters from registration lists. That’s right: Florida wanted to clean up its voter registration lists – and the ACLU wanted to keep them dirty.
Please understand, there is no doubt about ACLU/DOJ collusion in the matter of corrupting voter integrity. As far back as June 20, 2011, the ACLU, acting in conjunction with Project Vote, sent a letter to the DOJ complaining about a new Florida election integrity law that sought to avoid the massive voter registration fraud caused by Project Vote and its partner ACORN in 2008. Now Judicial Watch wants to know just how how far the DOJ has gone in its collusion with the ACLU.
On June 14, 2012, we submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ requesting the following information:
All records of communications between the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) concerning, regarding, or relating to Mi Familia Vota Education Fund v. Detzner, 12-cv-1294, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Tampa)
By a letter dated June 18, 2012, the DOJ acknowledged receiving the Judicial Watch FOIA request and was required by law to respond by July 17, 2012. It failed to do so.
Our lawsuit asks the District Court to order the Obama DOJ to “conduct a search for any and all responsive records” and to “produce, by a certain date, any and all non-exempt records,” along with an index of any records the department continues to declare exempt.
To most Americans, it would seem to go without saying that the role of the DOJ should be to protect voter integrity, not join with radical leftwing groups in trying to undermine it. But, remember, this is the Obama Justice Department, with Eric Holder as its chief – a man so disdainful of basic security measures and legal protection to ensure free and fair elections that he has become a regular on Judicial Watch’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list.
The effort by the state of Florida to clean its registration lists of ineligible voters came in response to a February 2012 letter of inquiry sent by Judicial Watch to Florida election officials. Judicial Watch alerted the State of Florida that failure to maintain clean voter registration lists violates Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
In response to Florida’s resulting efforts to comply with the NVRA, the ACLU, on behalf of the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, on June 8, 2012, filed its suit against the state. The DOJ then followed with its own lawsuit on June 12, 2012, asking a federal court to enjoin the state from taking steps to inquire about the presence of non-eligible aliens on voting rolls.
Judicial Watch moved to intervene in the case to defend Florida’s voter list maintenance efforts; the court subsequently sided with Florida and Judicial Watch and denied the DOJ’s attempt to stop Florida from removing non-citizens from the voter rolls.
This latest FOIA lawsuit is not the first time Judicial Watch has filed suit against the Obama DOJ to obtain information about its relationship with the ACLU. On June 1, 2012, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOJ to obtain records detailing the agency’s communications with the ACLU involving Pennsylvania House Bill 934, commonly referred to as Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Judicial Watch previously obtained documents from the DOJ showing that the agency worked with the ACLU to mount their respective legal challenges to SB 1070, Arizona’s illegal immigration enforcement law.
When we added Eric Holder to JW’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list, we noted, “Every day that Eric Holder remains at the helm, the Department of Justice sinks further into the abyss of cronyism, corruption, and deceit.” Now you have another one of the reasons why.
If there was any remaining doubt about the systematic effort by the Obama administration to keep the American people from learning the full truth about the tragedy that unfolded in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, it was thoroughly removed at this past Wednesday’s House committee hearings.
Perhaps, FrontPage Magazine summed it up best in its lead article the following morning:
Wednesday on Capitol Hill, three impeccable witnesses offered the clearest evidence to date that the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi before, during and after the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department employee Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, was a deadly combination of ineptitude, political calculations, and outright lying.
The testimony – by whistleblowers Eric Nordstrom (a former regional security officer of the U.S. Mission to Libya), Mark Thompson (the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism), and Gregory Hicks (the second in command in Libya during the fatal attack) – was as revealing as it was riveting. In the end, it painted a grim picture of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton first blocking the efforts by courageous soldiers to come to the aid of their fellow Americans under fire, and then weaving a deliberate web of outrageous lies to cover not only their own trail, but that of Islamic terrorists as well.
This is where Judicial Watch is focusing its attention. JW has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests – and three lawsuits as well – against the Obama State Department to gain access to records that could shed light on what really happened in Benghazi, who responded, and how. All three of the lawsuits are still active, and we will continue to press each one to help the American people get to the bottom of this deadly cover-up. Let me give you an update on where we stand in each suit.
On February 25, 2013, Judicial Watch sued the State Department seeking “all videos and photographs” depicting the Benghazi, Libya Consulate between September 10 and September 13, 2012, the period leading up to, during, and immediately following the deadly attack.
Specifically, Judicial Watch seeks the following records pursuant to its December 19, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request:
“Any and all videos and photographs depicting U.S. Consulate facilities in Benghazi, Libya (including the Special Mission Compound and the Annex) between September 10, 2012, and September 13, 2012, that were provided to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for Benghazi and/or to any individual member of the ARB.”
The State Department acknowledged receiving the Judicial Watch FOIA request on January 4, 2013, and was required by law to respond by February 4, 2013. Now, more than three months later, no documents have been produced. The Obama administration cannot claim it came up empty in trying to locate the records. The records exist for certain because they are referenced by the Accountability Review Board (ARB), convened by then – Secretary of State Clinton last December, in its final report.
In fact, according to ARB Chairman Ambassador Tom Pickering, the Board “reviewed thousands of documents and watched hours of video” (emphasis added) during the course of its investigation. Pickering, it should be noted, refused to testify in the House Benghazi hearings. The Obama administration also reportedly shared Benghazi video with certain members of Congress. The State Department, however, has refused to comply with JW’s FOIA seeking access to these materials on behalf of the American people.
I said at the time we filed our fist FOIA lawsuit, “It’s an easy guess as to why the Obama administration is refusing to turn these records over. Any video or photos will tell us more about Benghazi – in contrast to the lies and spin coming out of Obama administration officials.” With Wednesday’s whistleblower revelations, that statement is proving to be more accurate than ever.
In a second FOIA lawsuit against the Obama State Department, Judicial Watch seeks access to records concerning a contract totaling nearly $400,000 that was awarded to a foreign firm for “Security Guards and Patrol Services” at the Benghazi Consulate prior to the Benghazi attacks. This contract was signed on February 17, 2012, and May 3, 2012, and at the time was identified only as “Award ID SAQMMA12COO92.” Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit on February 25, 2013.
Specifically, Judicial Watch seeks the following pursuant to a November 7, 2012, FOIA request:
Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the $387,413.68 contract awarded by the Department of State to an unidentified foreign awardee for “Security Guards and Patrol Services.” According to the record of this expenditure on USASpending.gov, the contract was signed on February 17, 2012, and May 3, 2012, and is identified by Award ID SAQMMA12COO92.
The State Department acknowledged receiving the November 7, 2012, Judicial Watch FOIA request on November 12, 2012, and was required by law to respond by December 20, 2012, at the latest. Yet again, as of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, JW has not received a meaningful response.
And what is suspicious about this contract?
According to Breitbart.com, when first questioned about foreign Benghazi security guards on Friday, September 14, 2012, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland emphatically denied that State had hired any private firm to provide security at the American mission in Benghazi:
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the claim was made yesterday that a company that is a spinoff of Blackwater, in fact, proposed or contracted the United States Government for this particular kind of eventuality, and it was caught up in some sort of bureaucratic –
MS. NULAND: Completely untrue with regard to Libya. I checked that this morning. At no time did we plan to hire a private security company for Libya.
QUESTION: Toria [stet], I just want to make sure I understood that, because I didn’t understand your first question. You said – your first answer. You said that at no time did you have contracts with private security companies in Libya?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
However, on September 17, 2012, WIRED magazine broke the story that Nuland had provided false information in her September 14 press conference, saying: “Contrary to Friday’s claim by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that ‘at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,’ the department inked a contract for ‘security guards and patrol services’ on May 3, 2012, for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only ‘foreign security awardees’ as its recipient.”
In her daily press briefing on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, Nuland admitted that she had made an “error” concerning the State Department’s hiring of foreign security firms in Benghazi. “There was a group called Blue Mountain Group, which is a private security company with permits to operate in Libya,” Nuland said. “They were hired to provide local Libyan guards who operated inside the gate doing things like operating the security access equipment, screening cars, that kind of thing.”
Nuland’s belated admission that Blue Mountain was chosen by the Clinton State Department because it hired “local Libyan guards” takes on a new, sinister meaning in view of Nordstrom’s House committee testimony that, “Benghazi and Tripoli were not located in a country where the Department of State could count on effective support or response from the host nation — a fact that was clearly and repeatedly reported to policy makers in Washington, DC.”
Add to that the Breitbart.com report that Blue Mountain was specifically selected for the Benghazi security operation because it was willing to sign the State Department Rules of Engagement for Libya prohibiting guards from carrying weapons with live ammunition, and it becomes all the more obvious why the Obama administration is stonewalling JW’s second Benghazi FOIA. And why we will not let them get away with it.
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit on February 14, 2013, against the Obama Administration’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence seeking access to a controversial “speaking points” memo that seems to suggest that intelligence officials believed from the outset that al Qaeda was behind the attack despite public statements to the contrary issued by Obama administration officials, including UN Ambassador Susan Rice and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
JW’s FOIA skepticism about the “speaking points” was confirmed in early May, when an explosive story in the Weekly Standard revealed that, contrary to the Obama administration’s denials, the State Department’s own internal emails explicitly pointed to al Qaeda involvement in the deadly attack:
Within hours of the initial attack on the U.S. facility, the State Department Operations Center sent out two alerts. The first, at 4:05 p.m. (all times are Eastern Daylight Time), indicated that the compound was under attack; the second, at 6:08 p.m., indicated that Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Libya, had claimed credit for the attack. According to the House report, these alerts were circulated widely inside the government, including at the highest levels. The fighting in Benghazi continued for another several hours, so top Obama administration officials were told even as the fighting was taking place that U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives were likely being attacked by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists
As reported by the New York Post, the need for the JW FOIA was further backed up by Gregory Hicks in his House committee testimony:
Gregory Hicks, the first person to testify to Congress who was on the ground in Libya during the fateful night of the Sept. 11, 2012 siege, told a House committee that he was incredulous just five days later when UN Ambassador Susan Rice said on Sunday talk shows that the assault was not a terrorist attack.
“My jaw dropped,” Hicks said. “I was embarrassed.”
Specifically, the Judicial Watch FOIA seeks:
Any and all memoranda, assessments, analyses, and/or talking points regarding the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and/or the killing of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence between September 11, 2012, and September 20, 2012. This request includes, but is not limited to, the “speaking points” memorandum referred to by Senator Dianne Feinstein during a televised interview on October 17, 2012….
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged receiving JW’s request on October 19, 2012, and was required by law to respond by November 26, 2012. However, as of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, the agency failed to produce any records responsive to the request, indicate when any responsive records will be produced, or demonstrated that responsive records are exempt from production.
In mid-November 2012, former CIA Director General David Petraeus reportedly testified before Congress that the initial speaking points produced by the CIA indicated the attack was an act of terrorism committed by al Qaeda-linked militants and suggested the terrorism reference was removed sometime during an interagency review process. In the days and weeks following the Benghazi attacks, the Obama administration blamed the incident on a rudimentary Internet video deemed offensive to Muslims. This false claim was repeated by both Ambassador Rice and Secretary Clinton in multiple public statements and press interviews.
At a September 14, 2012, event honoring the four victims of the Benghazi attack, then-Secretary of State Clinton made the following statement: “We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen the rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful video that we had nothing to do with.”
Did Hillary Clinton know this was a lie when she said it? She certainly was in no mood to talk about it during her testimony before Congress on January 23, 2013. When asked about the alleged discrepancy between the intelligence community’s assessment and the Obama administration’s public statements during congressional testimony, Ms. Clinton shouted, “What difference does it make at this point? … I personally was not focused on talking points.”
According to Investor.com, at the House committee testimony on May 8, Eric Nordstrom answered Ms. Clinton’s question succinctly and emotionally:
What difference at this point does the truth about Benghazi make? In an emotional opening statement at Wednesday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee, Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer of the U.S. Mission to Libya from September 2011 to July 2012, answered that question with voice cracking and a simple declarative sentence:
“It matters to the friends and family of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were murdered on September 11th, 2012.”
Separately, I was struck by the failure of the hearings to get into the security issues raised by Judicial Watch’s independent interim report on Benghazi, “The Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012: Analysis and Further Questions from a Diplomatic Security Service Regional Security Officer and Special Agent.” We prepared this special report relying on the expertise of Mr. Raymond Fournier, a recently retired Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent with more than 30 years of extraordinary experience managing security for a host U.S. Embassies, including our posts in Israel and Afghanistan.
Our report has questions that remain unanswered to this day:
Who at the State Department was responsible for opening up and continuing the operation of the “Special Mission Compound” in the unstable environment of Benghazi, overriding physical security standards for diplomatic facilities?
According to Fournier, “The Department’s unexplained decision to create a new category of diplomatic structure, i.e. the ‘Special Mission Compound,’” for the purpose of “skirting the established physical security standards” for embassies and consulates was the “critical error” leading to the deadly attack.
Did the Director of Diplomatic Security or his immediate subordinates have authority to countermand the Department’s desire to open “SMC Benghazi?”
In the Judicial Watch report, Fournier cautions that, “Frequently, security policy and standards are set aside as inconvenient, restraining, time consuming or simply less important relative to loftier goals foreign policy goals prosecuted by the Department’s elite. One need go no further than Benghazi to see an example of the aforementioned managerial arrogance with the Department.”
Why did Ambassador Stevens travel to Benghazi, so close to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks?
The Judicial Watch Special Report reveals State Department warnings in July, August, and September of 2012 advising against travel to the Mideast in general and Benghazi in particular.
Why were two unmanned aerial vehicles requested to record the deadly events as they unfolded in Benghazi while more lethal air support options were not on station?
We have over a dozen FOIA requests and three lawsuits to get at the truth. I can tell you that the Obama administration has failed to respond substantively to any of our inquiries. This level of stonewalling is unprecedented in my 15 years at Judicial Watch. But we intend to keep pressing its Benghazi FOIA’s with goal of every American knowing the full truth about what really went on – in Libya and at the Obama White House – on September 11, 2012.
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez may not be the most corrupt member of the United States Senate – after all, the competition is pretty stiff – but, if he isn’t, it’s not for a lack of trying. He made Judicial Watch’s list of “Washington’s Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” last year for good reason.
Senator Menendez has been investigated for steering lobbying business to his former chief of staff (and girlfriend). He helped sneak through an $8 million federal giveaway for a luxury condominiums complex that benefitted campaign donors and a former senior aide. Late last year he was alleged to have patronized underage prostitutes and to have employed an illegal alien sex offender on his staff.
On this last point, in response to a January 15, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Judicial Watch has obtained documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealing that Menendez may have been the chief beneficiary of a decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to delay the deportation of an illegal alien intern working for U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) until after the 2012 elections, despite the intern’s violation of probation stemming from an aggravated sexual assault conviction.
The 18-year-old illegal alien, Luis Abrahan Sanchez Zavaleta, was allowed to work in the senator’s office even though he had an expired visa and a previous conviction for repeatedly sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy.
Records obtained through the JW FOIA request reveal that, in addition to working for the Senator, Sanchez Zavaleta volunteered at an organization where he worked with minors in violation of the terms of his probation. Hudson County prosecutors declined to act on these breaches after learning that Sanchez Zavaleta worked for Menendez. Immigration officials also delayed their ordinary deportation efforts in this case, reportedly deciding to delay action until after the November 2012 elections.
According to a December Associated Press (AP) news report that exposed the Menendez-Zavaleta story, “The Homeland Security Department instructed federal agents not to arrest him until after Election Day, a U.S. official involved in the case told the AP.” At the time, a DHS spokesman termed the story “categorically false.”
In January, however, the AP published a follow-up story citing documents obtained from the office of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) confirming its earlier report. According to the follow-up article: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Newark had arranged to arrest Sanchez at the local prosecutor’s office on Oct. 25. That was fewer than two weeks before the election. Noting that Sanchez was a volunteer in Menendez’s Senate office, ICE officials in New Jersey advised that the arrest ‘had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest’ and were ‘advised to postpone the arrest’ until officials in Washington gave approval.”
Ultimately, following the re-elections of both President Obama and Robert Menendez, authorities finally arrested Sanchez on December 6, 2012. He is now scheduled for deportation.
In its January, 15, 2013, FOIA request to DHS concerning amnesty fraud committed by Sanchez Zavaleta while interning for Menendez, Judicial Watch requested the following:
a. The White House
b. The Executive Office of the President
c. The Office of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
d. The Office of Senator Bob Menendez
e. The Office of the Senate Majority Leader
f. The Office of Senator Harry Reid
g. The Office of Senator Patty Murray
The time frame specified in the request was October 1, 2012, to December 31, 2012. According to the documents provided Judicial Watch by ICE, the agency located 334 pages of information, but released only 302 in response to the FOIA.
The scandal around Sanchez-Zavaleta should come as no surprise. His track record for supporting illegal aliens speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted against denying legal status to illegal aliens convicted of domestic violence, crimes against children, and crimes relating to the illegal purchase or sale of firearms. He voted for giving federal funds to “sanctuary cities” harboring illegal aliens. He voted against building a fence along the Mexican border. And he voted for allowing illegal immigrants to participate in the Social Security program.
Nor is Menendez new to scandals involving his offshore ventures. Late last year, he was alleged to have patronized underage prostitutes. The Senate Ethics Committee is continuing to investigate two trips he took on the private jet of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a major campaign contributor, to the doctor’s “seaside mansion” in the Dominican Republic, trips Menendez failed to disclose properly in his Senate Financial Disclosure forms. And recently, Univision reported that Menendez used his connections and authority as a federal lawmaker to retaliate against an adviser to former Dominican President Hipólito Mejía because the advisor helped an ex-lover of Melgen’s.
And all the while, Senator Menendez, now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to take the lead as part of the “Gang of Eight” pushing President Obama’s mass amnesty through Congress. This helps to place into context why our system is so badly broken. And why Judicial Watch is so badly needed to expose and end the corruption of the politicians writing our laws.
Until Next Week...
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.