Attorney General Calls FOIA Requests 'Harassment' During Long Rant About How Much It Sucks To Be Running The Nation
from the sit-your-whiny-ass-down dept
I’ve never seen a Presidential administration so thoroughly pissed off it’s in power. Despite having his boy in the White House and a Senate majority, the DOJ’s top man spent most of a memorial lecture complaining about how hard it is to be in charge.
Attorney General William Barr’s main complaint — which runs for a majority of his speech to the Federalist Society — is that the Executive Branch just doesn’t have enough power. Barr believes one part of the co-equal government should be more equal than the others.
The most telling moment is this: Barr believes things began to go downhill for the Executive Branch during an administration that made the best case for limiting Presidential power.
I am concerned that the deck has become stacked against the Executive. Since the mid-60s, there has been a steady grinding down of the Executive branch’s authority, that accelerated after Watergate. More and more, the President’s ability to act in areas in which he has discretion has become smothered by the encroachments of the other branches.
Using a president that resigned on the verge of impeachment as an example of the “weakening” of the Executive Branch may be timely, but it’s also amazingly tone deaf. A person who provided a clear example of how dangerous an unchecked Executive could be really shouldn’t be touted in mid-bemoanment of the current state of affairs… unless you’re arguing for fewer checks and balances, which is what Barr is doing.
Barr also conveniently glosses over the expansion of the Executive Branch’s powers following the 9/11 attacks. It also glosses over Barr’s unilateral expansion of the DOJ’s powers under his leadership back in 1992. His complaints aren’t backed by facts. They’re only backed by Barr’s bitterness, which is aimed at Congressional leaders, who are investigating the President, and at the nation’s courts, which have shot down a few of the president’s immigration edicts.
But it goes further than an angry man shaking his fist at checks and balances. Barr also takes a shot at the Freedom of Information Act — yet another way the Executive Branch is somehow being screwed. The most powerful executive branch in the world is being “harassed” by citizens.
The costs of this constant harassment are real. For example, we all understand that confidential communications and a private, internal deliberative process are essential for all of our branches of government to properly function. Congress and the Judiciary know this well, as both have taken great pains to shield their own internal communications from public inspection. There is no FOIA for Congress or the Courts. Yet Congress has happily created a regime that allows the public to seek whatever documents it wants from the Executive Branch at the same time that individual congressional committees spend their days trying to publicize the Executive’s internal decisional process. That process cannot function properly if it is public, nor is it productive to have our government devoting enormous resources to squabbling about what becomes public and when, rather than doing the work of the people.
All of this is true (minus the editorializing). The public can seek documents from Executive Branch agencies like the DOJ. However, they cannot seek documents directly from the President. Congress is exempt from most FOIA requests. So is the judicial branch, although the presumption of an open court does tend to make the concept of public records requests redundant. (Citizens can sue for the release of sealed documents though.)
This isn’t harassment. Quite possibly the agencies Barr is speaking for — 15 agencies, including the State Department, DHS, DOJ, and DoD — view FOIA requests as “harassment.” But it’s not. It’s something a 1967 law established to make the government more accountable and transparent. Barr feels this mandatory openness is bullshit. Worse, he claims this is somehow partisan bullshit that unfairly targets his president and his executive agencies, overlooking the fact that this same “harassment” has “targeted” other Executive Branches for more than 50 years.
Barr’s speech is nothing more than a preacher whining to the converted that life is unfair. He seems to have bought into Trump’s mistaken belief that being in charge should prevent criticism, accountability, or professional responsibility. Barr is about as unhinged as Trump, but he doesn’t have the excuse that he’s new to the job. Trump was elevated into the Oval Office after a lifetime of grandiose real estate failures and a stint as the host of a successful “reality” show. But Barr is a g-man with plenty of government experience. He knows how all of this really works. He’s just angry it doesn’t work the way he wants it to. He’s a dangerous man in a position with a lot of power. He’s abused the office before. His attitude toward the public suggests he’s willing to abuse it again.