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Can’t Talk Now, I’m Being Sued

The Bush administration has delayed releasing documents on everything from detainee treatment to housing subsidies. But with eight months to go, heads of federal agencies are coming up with new stalling tactics. The latest: Blame a lawsuit!

The Washington Post reports today that under new AG Michael Mukasey, the Justice Dept. still isn’t giving Congress information on detainee treatment, warrantless wiretapping and fired U.S. Attorneys. Justice claims that some of the documents are relevant to pending lawsuits, filed by the ACLU, so it would be inappropriate to make them available.

That was the same rationale used by now-resigned HUD Director Alphonso Jackson, when Congress asked him about four separate federal investigations. sued the agency over a $50 million funding cut. Also, the tactic has been repeatedly employed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson in the California greenhouse gases waiver scandal. EPA’s been sued by several environmental groups and 16 states. The White House’s office of administration has also made use of the “we’re-getting-sued” defense when asked to hand over thousands of missing e-mails. Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and The National Security Archive are both suing the office of administration.

Even the Interior Dept. has gotten into the act. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was called to testify before Congress about why he hasn’t determined whether polar bears are an endangered species. Kempthorne said he couldn’t because environmental groups were suing him over the delay.

In none of these cases is it clear whether a court actually discouraged administration officials from talking.

So suing the administration appears to be a double-edged sword. Now, officials can use it as a reason to not supply documents. Over the long-term, though, the courts may still be the best way to get information after the clock runs out on the administration.

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