Written by Tom Fitton
I want to open this week’s Update by commending election officials in the State of Ohio, especially the current Secretary of State Jon A. Husted, and by congratulating JW’s litigation team and our clients at True the Vote.
This week, Judicial Watch announced that it reached a settlement in an August 30, 2012, lawsuit against the State of Ohio, which resulted in an agreement with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to take or continue to take a series of actions to further ensure that the state is in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
It may have taken our actions to bring these issues into focus, but in the end, election officials in the State of Ohio made the decision to do the right thing for citizens of the state and for election integrity.
Now before I get to the specifics of this agreement, just let me put this legal victory in context and underscore its importance.
There is no question about it. This is an historic settlement, the first of its kind in the history of the National Voter Registration Act. As JW has stated time and time again, in letters to election officials and in court filings across the country, dirty election rolls can lead to voter and election fraud.
Under the terms of this groundbreaking settlement, the people of Ohio can now rest easier that their elections will be cleaner – beginning with the 2014 elections. Moreover, given that the problem of dirty rolls is a nationwide problem, Ohio’s good faith steps to address it can serve as a model for other states. Rest assured JW will do everything in its power to see that it does.
Now to the specifics.
Under the terms of the settlement, which extend through November 2018, the State of Ohio specifically agreed to take or continue to take the following nine actions relating to voter roll list maintenance and NVRA compliance:
To participate in the State and Territorial Exchange of Vital Events (STEVE) to obtain out-of-state death information
To participate in the Interstate Voter Registration Cross-Check program administered by the Kansas Secretary of State to identify registered voters who have moved out-of-state.
To use Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles data to identify registered voters who move within Ohio, with frequent updates being sent to local officials.
To use an online voter registration change of address website to encourage voters to keep their registration information current.
To conduct a special, monthly, duplicate registration elimination program, within defined technical thresholds, for all Ohio County boards of election voter lists.
To keep online, and available for public access, a current voter registration list.
To require the county boards of election to send accurate survey information to the Secretary of State’s Office, to be compiled and forwarded to the Election Assistance commission for its NVRA-related surveys.
To use reasonable efforts to promote the expanded use by recent college graduates of Ohio’s online voter registration change of address system, including education to remind college graduates to keep their voter registration addresses and information current and to request necessary updates; and to endeavor to coordinate these activities in conjunction with Ohio’s colleges and universities.
To direct boards of election to send confirmation notices annually to voters who may be inactive; and to query boards of election on a regular basis as to whether this direction is being followed.
As you can plainly see, these are specific and verifiable actions that will most certainly help to fix voter registration lists in Ohio and lead to cleaner, more reliable elections.
This has been a year-long fight for Judicial Watch. Our legal action against the State of Ohio began in February 2012 when Judicial Watch sent a letter to the State of Ohio notifying it of violations of Section 8 of the NVRA, which requires states to take reasonable steps to ensure that their voter rolls contain only eligible voters. Judicial Watch subsequently filed its lawsuit in partnership with True the Vote on August 12, 2012.
“This settlement marks a milestone in the fight to make certain that voter rolls are being properly maintained across the state; helping to assure the public that the most basic principles of federal election law are being upheld; and helping to restore Ohioans’ faith in the integrity of our voting system,” said True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht. “Election officials in the State of Ohio are to be commended for shouldering their responsibility to maintain clean voter registration lists.”
I’d like to recognize the fine work of our legal team, which was led by Paul Orfanedes, JW’s Director of Litigation. At Judicial Watch, Paul was helped by JW attorneys Chris Fedeli and Bob Popper. Also partnering with us was J. Christian Adams of the Election Law Center. Our local counsel for the litigation is David R. Langdon and Joshua R. Bolinger of Langdon Law, LLC. Judicial Watch lawsuits don’t litigate themselves, and our legal team puts tremendous time and effort into our public interest litigation.
As you may recall, as part of our Election Integrity Project, JW investigators found that voter rolls in a number of states contained a great number of registrations for individuals who were ineligible to vote. The Obama Justice Department, which is more interested in registering Obama’s Food Stamp Army (with all the attendant fraud) and opposing voter ID, has zero interest in enforcing laws to ensure clean elections.
Judicial Watch notified a dozen states that they must clean up their voter registration lists or face lawsuits. Judicial Watch and True the Vote subsequently filed lawsuits against election officials in Indiana and Ohio, and prompted the state of Florida and other states, without litigation, to remove thousands of ineligible voters from state registration lists. According to independent research published by Pew Charitable Trusts in February 2012, approximately 24 million active voter registrations throughout the United States – or one out of every eight registrations – are either no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
This is a problem that is of the highest priority for Judicial Watch as we continue to make certain that every vote cast is legitimate and lawful.
Stay tuned. The forces on the Left are not going to be pleased with this turn of events because it hampers their ability to steal elections. So you can expect leftists groups like Project Vote and the various ACORN spinoffs (with help from the Obama Justice Department) to continue to wreak havoc in the electoral process. We must remain vigilant if we are to counter these efforts effectively. And we will. In fact, we have active litigation over clean election rolls in Indiana and are seeking to defend North Carolina clean election laws from a coordinated assault by Eric Holder and fronts for Al Sharpton and other radicals.
In the meantime, I extend my thanks to you supporters, including those in Ohio whose interests we were representing directly, who stood with us in this battle. Thanks to you, elections in a key battleground state will be more honest. This is a result that benefits the entire nation and strengthens our republic.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up Judicial Watch’s challenge to the Obama administration’s keeping the post-mortem images of Osama bin Laden and his burial at sea secret.
As I noted in my statement to the press following the Supreme Court announcement, this is a decision that not only undermines the public’s right to access non-sensitive government records detailing the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, but it also undermines the entire open records process:
With the seeming endorsement of the judiciary, Barack Obama has rewritten the Freedom of Information Act at the expense of the American people’s right to know what its government is up to. The idea that the “most transparent administration in history” would put the sensibilities of terrorists above the rule of law ought to concern every American.
What other laws that terrorists don’t like might be subject to unilateral change by Obama? Obama’s appeasement places our fundamental rights and accountable government at risk.
As you may recall, JW had filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to review a 2013 Appeals Court ruling against the Judicial Watch lawsuit. The suit sought to force the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to release more than 50 photographs and video recordings of Osama bin Laden taken during and after the U.S. raid upon the terrorist leader’s compound in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
Judicial Watch’s petition had asked the Supreme Court to “reverse this disturbing reversal,” and mandate the courts to “conduct meaningful review” and warned that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will continue as less of a disclosure than a “withholding statute.”
Unfortunately, this request was denied. And here is what is most troubling to me.
Whenever the government does not want to the public to know something about its activities, it often hides behind national security. Now sometimes, on rare occasions, national security might indeed be compromised by the release of records. But not in this case.
There was no top secret process at issue in our request. As Judicial Watch noted in its court filings, Judicial Watch “does not seek the production of any photographs or video recordings that have been properly classified or would actually cause harm to the national security by revealing intelligence methods or the identity of U.S. personnel or classified technology. [Judicial Watch] solely seeks those records that have not been properly classified as well as those records for which no military or intelligence secrets would be revealed.”
We simply wanted the government to publicly release the post-mortem photos to help close the public record on an event that was already well established – the killing of bin Laden.
The president said he wouldn’t release these photos because they could be seen as “spiking the football,” inciting terrorists to attack our country. Leaving aside for the moment the fact there is no “spiking the football” provision in FOIA law, let me point out that this president had no issue with making the bin Laden killing a center piece of his 2012 election campaign.
And it didn’t stop his administration from seeking “high visibility” (as JW uncovered) in bin Laden-related projects, including filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. If anything could be seen as “spiking the football,” it would be government “sponsorship” of an Academy Award-winning movie documenting in painstaking detail the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden – a film, mind you, that earned more than $135 million at the box office, including $35 million in foreign markets!
“Spiking the football,” was clearly never the problem. The problem was that this administration only wanted its version of events known to the public.
The release of classified information was clearly never the problem either, as the Obama administration (most especially former CIA Director Leon Panetta) had no issue providing the filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty access to classified details about the raid – details that actually could have caused harm to members of the military and their families. (The Obama administration admitted as much in documents uncovered by JW.)
And now this administration’s selective release of government documents has been endorsed by the courts and ignored by the highest court in the land.
The battle over these photos may be over for now (though I am convinced they will be released eventually – you can only suppress history for so long). But the battle to ensure the integrity of FOIA law and the principle of government transparency continues with every FOIA lawsuit we file. There have been many, and there will be many more to come.
And if you would like to join us in the effort to keep government honest and clean, I have two suggestions. First, consider supporting JW with a tax-deductible contribution so we can continue our investigations and lawsuits. And, second, download our free 2013 “Transparency 101: Freedom of Information Act and Opens Records Handbook,” so you can learn for yourself how to work within the open records process and the courts to shake loose government records.
This week I close with a bit of excellent reporting from our own Corruption Chronicles blogger Irene Garcia on the latest Benghazi details. (By the way, if you don’t regularly read Irene’s material, you should! A former Los Angeles Times reporter, Irene is a prolific investigator and writer who shares JW’s commitment to unearthing corruption related stories around the country. Here’s a link to the Corruption Chronicles blog.)
On Tuesday, referencing the letter mentioned to you in last week’s Update regarding Benghazi, Irene wrote:
It’s no coincidence that, days after prominent conservatives—including Judicial Watch—and family members of Benghazi victims demanded action and accountability, House leaders released classified files documenting the Obama administration’s lies and cover-up involving the terrorist attack….
….Last week JW joined forces with surviving Benghazi family members, U.S. military leaders and other top conservatives to call House Speaker John Boehner on the sad and pathetic job he’s doing investigating the tragedy. In a scathing letter, JW and the other signatories blast the Republican leader, demand action and accountability concerning the Benghazi terrorist attack and justice for the four murdered Americans. The group also demands that Boehner install a select committee to thoroughly investigate the atrocity. The letter, personally addressed to Boehner, received substantial media attention.
In all, House leaders released 450 pages of records, including sworn testimony collected by the House Armed Services Committee during closed-door hearings. Evidently a report summarizing these hearings and the committee’s findings is forthcoming. If you want to read these documents for yourself, you can access them here.
Here’s our take on the headlines:
The previously classified testimony reveals that, minutes after the American compound in Benghazi came under assault, top defense officials were informed that it was a “terrorist attack” and not a spontaneous strike that started as a protest over a U.S.-made anti-Islam video as the Obama administration has said.
General Carter Ham, who headed the Pentagon’s combat command (AFRICOM) with jurisdiction over Libya, testified that he broke the news about the unfolding attack to then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. Shortly afterwards the two senior officials left the Pentagon to meet with the president.
The testimony is critical to documenting the Obama administration’s repeated lies and cover-up concerning Benghazi, but the material merely scratches the surface of the whole story of what really happened. It’s not a substitute for a special Select Committee on Benghazi with subpoena power, a capable staff of qualified and experienced investigators and the resources to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.
The House release was followed by the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which yielded more bad news for the Obama administration, this time related to a question many have asked regarding Benghazi: Could the attacks have been prevented? Of course, they could, but it took the Senate over a year to figure that out. Per NBC.com:
A Senate panel faults the State Department and intelligence agencies for failing to thwart the September 11, 2012 assault on American outposts in Benghazi and says that the attacks were “preventable.”
In a statement on the declassified report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, lawmakers said that “the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya—to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets—and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission.”
So, to sum up the week for the Obama administration related to the House document dump and the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation: Evidence shows the Obama administration lied about the terrorist connection to the Benghazi attacks which, if the State Department and others had done their jobs, could have been prevented in the first place.
While leaders in Congress continue to inch along in their efforts to get to the truth in the Benghazi scandal, JW continues to move full-steam ahead with its investigation.
As you know, JW has uncovered the first photos documenting the aftermath of the terrorist attack. JW has also published two in-depth special reports on Benghazi, the most recent one on the first anniversary of the terrorist attack. Read the special reports here and here. And we have numerous FOIA investigations ongoing, some of which have already borne fruit. For example, JW managed to obtain the State Department contract with the controversial, inexperienced foreign defense contractor responsible for “protecting” the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
JW has been doing this kind of investigative work since its inception. We are the leading experts when it comes to unearthing government records. And I have seldom seen in my 18 years a more concerted effort by any presidential administration to lie, deny, stonewall and obfuscate. Something very big is being held tightly under lock and key by the Obama administration. Don’t be fooled by the release of haphazard, political “reports” by Congress – almost all the big questions on Benghazi remain open. And we should not rest until the truth is out.
Until next week… Tom Fitton, President
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.