State Department’s Attempt to Hide Records Related to John Kerry Until After the Next Election Draws Lawsuit
- March 24, 2022
PPT challenges State’s lack of transparency around climate office
Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced it has filed a transparency lawsuit against the State Department. The action seeks to enforce the organization’s legal rights regarding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records involving John Kerry’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change (SECC), a request which State estimates it will be unable to complete until November 18, 2024.
The American public is suffering from intense pain at the pump, rising inflation, and the specter of armed conflict in Europe. Yet the State Department is claiming the need to withhold records that could shed light on an office that is run by former presidential candidate and Secretary of State John Kerry until after the next Presidential election. Mr. Kerry is charged with leading one of the administration’s top priorities and is performing work that could have immense impacts on Americans’ pocketbooks, record inflation, and international crises.
State’s replies to the original request and PPT’s follow-up inquiries are wholly inconsistent with both the spirit and the letter of Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland’s memo last week to heads of departments and agencies regarding FOIA. FOIA, the AG intoned, is “a vital tool for ensuring transparency, accessibility, and accountability in government” whose “‘basic purpose . . . is to ensure an informed citizenry,’ which is ‘vital to the functioning of a democratic society [and] needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.’” But not until after the next election, apparently.
PPT asserts in the lawsuit, “As the Garland Memo makes clear, ‘Timely disclosure of records is also essential to the core purpose of FOIA.’…An agency purporting to give itself more than three years to complete a FOIA request is anything but timely. Particularly where, as here, the Department’s proposed completion date conveniently allows it to hide information about high level political appointees working on one of the Administration’s highest priorities until just after the next Presidential election. This can hardly be said to promote ‘transparency’ or ‘accountability.’”
“Looking at the State Department’s schedule for providing records, it would be hard to convince the American public that political considerations were not factored into their reaction to this request,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Delaying the release of records about one of the most high-profile, high-priority offices, run by one of the most prominent political figures, until after a relevant election is an affront to not only the AG’s guidance but to basic principles of public service. If anyone were wondering why trust in the government is so low, this case is Exhibit A.”