Today in CREW v. Dep’t of Justice (D.D.C.), District Court Judge Gladys Kessler handed CREW a resounding victory in CREW’s FOIA lawsuit to compel the Department of Justice to release documents related to its investigation of an earmark Rep. Don Young (R-AK) inserted into a previously enrolled bill. The $10 million Coconut Road Interchange earmark had become such a symbol of congressional corruption and earmarking excess that Congress passed legislation directing DOJ to investigate it origins. DOJ argued Rep. Young’s privacy interest outweighed the public’s interest in information concerning the investigation; Judge Kessler disagreed. She based her ruling on the fact that that the congressman had publicly acknowledged the investigation and the widespread public interest in holding government officials accountable. Judge Kessler explained the American public has a clear “right to know about the manner in which its representatives are conducting themselves and whether the government agency responsible for investigating and, if warranted, prosecuting those representatives for alleged illegal conduct is doing its job.” Indeed, the court found a “heightened public interest” given “these days of political turmoil, constant accusations and name calling, and concern about our economic and social future.” DOJ now has 60 days in which to produce records or file an index describing all withheld records and the reason for the withholdings.
CREW has similar lawsuits pending that seek records from DOJ’s investigation of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), John Murtha (D-PA).