Ruling seen as a rebuke of Obama, who took office vowing to run the “most transparent administration in history,” but who has totally failed to live up to that goal. Judge says “public trust has been diminished.”
A federal judge warned the Environmental Protection Agency today not to discriminate against conservative groups in how it responds to open-records requests, issuing a legal spanking to the agency concluding that while it can’t prove officials intentionally destroyed documents, they lied to the court and showed “apathy and carelessness” in carrying out the law.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth described the “absurdity” of the way the EPA handled a Freedom of Information Act request from the Landmark Legal Foundation and then the court case stemming from it — including late last week admitting it lied to the court about how it went about searching for documents.
In a scorching 25-page opinion, the judge accused the agency of “insulting” him by first claiming it had done a full search for records, then years later retracting that claim without any explanation.
“The recurrent instances of disregard that EPA employees display for FOIA obligations should not be tolerated by the agency,” the judge said in a 25-page ruling. “This court would implore the executive branch to take greater responsibility in ensuring that all EPA FOIA requests — regardless of the political affiliation of the requester — are treated with equal respect and conscientiousness.”
The ruling could be seen as a rebuke to President Obama, who took office vowing to run the most transparent administration in history, but who has faced increasing challenges over how he’s failed to live up to that claim. The EPA in particular has been in a years-long battle with conservative groups who argue the agency has ignored them while playing favorites with liberal groups.
Eric W. Wachter, a key EPA official identified as overseeing the open-records search, didn’t respond to a request for comment but an agency spokeswoman said they were happy the judge didn’t sanction them, as Landmark had sought.
“EPA is focused on creating more efficient work processes to ensure FOIAs responses are done more effectively and at a lower cost,” the spokeswoman said. “That includes adopting industry concept and best practices into the delivery of information technology services in areas such as cloud computing, mobile technology and workplace standards.
Judge Lamberth said Mr. Wachter provided false information to the court, then the EPA tried to withdraw it on Friday, though never explained how it got things wrong in the first place nor why it waited years to admit it had lied to the court.
Landmark, a conservative public interest legal group, filed a request in 2012 trying to see what outside groups EPA officials had been speaking with as they wrote new rules and regulations.
EPA slow-walked that request, Landmark sued, and the matter has been in front of the courts ever since.
Just Lamberth said at several turns, the EPA was either lying or terribly incompetent in how it handled the situation, both in terms of the search it performed and how it responded to the court case.
“Either EPA intentionally sought to evade Landmark’s lawful FOIA request so the agency could destroy responsive documents, or EPA demonstrated apathy and carelessness toward Landmark’s request,” Judge Lamberth said. “Either scenario reflects poorly upon EPA and surely serves to diminish the public’s trust in the agency.”
The judge said since Landmark couldn’t prove it was intentional bad faith, the group wasn’t entitled to “spoliation sanctions.” Neither could he find a reason to impose criminal sanctions against the agency.
Judge Lamberth also refused to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the EPA’s open-records requests, saying that was an “extreme and legally uncertain” alternative. But his frustration with the situation showed through repeatedly.
“The court is left wondering whether EPA has learned from its mistakes, or if it will merely continue to address FOIA requests in the clumsy manner that has seemingly become its custom,” the judge wrote. “Given the offensively unapologetic nature of EPA’s recent withdrawal notice … the court is not optimistic that the agency has learned anything.”
In other news, the IRS says illegal immigrants can claim up to three years’ refunds on income even if they never paid income taxes.
[NORM ‘n’ AL Note: Read it again, folks. That’s what it says: Illegal immigrants are permitted to get tax refunds on taxes they never paid. Think that might work for us regular legal Americans? The guy in the White House is not only a liar, he’s a lunatic. Great job, Mr. O…just bring ’em in and show ’em the loopholes!]
The IRS is defending its decision to let illegal immigrants claim up to three years’ refunds on income even if they never paid income taxes, telling Congress in a new letter last week that agency lawyers have concluded getting a Social Security number triggers the ability to go back and ask for previous refunds.
Obama’s deportation amnesty could grant Social Security numbers to as many as 4 million illegal immigrants, making many of them eligible for tax refunds under the Earned Income Tax Credit even for years when they cheated on their taxes, worked off the books and refused to file tax returns.
“Section 32 of the Internal Revenue Code requires an SSN on the return, but a taxpayer claiming the EITC is not required to have an SSN before the close of the year for which the EITC is claimed,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen wrote in his letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley on Wednesday.
The IRS’s chief lawyer had reached that conclusion in 2000, and the agency has newly confirmed it, Mr. Koskinen said.
Mr. Grassley said that made a mockery of the law, and said he’ll try to write a bill specifically prohibiting it.
“The tax code shouldn’t reward those who broke our immigration laws,” the Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement.
The IRS ruling creates an odd circumstance where illegal immigrants who cheated by not paying taxes before can see if they would benefit from refunds. If they do benefit, they could file, but if they don’t benefit they could continue to avoid taxes for those years.
NORM ‘n’ AL Note: An “odd circumstance”? It’s not odd, it’s OUTRAGEOUS! Dumbest thing we’ve ever heard! Let’s just change the name of the IRS to Irrational Revenue Service, and quit kidding ourselves that this agency is really doing something beneficial.
[by Stephen Dinan, writing for The Washington Times]
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis