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Context of 'October 12, 2001: Ashcroft Urges Agencies to Deny FOIA Requests'

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Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. [Washington Post, 12/2/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 96] The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” [New York Times, 1/3/2003] In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 96]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Bush administration (43), Freedom of Information Act, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s Patrick Philbin sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The memo’s contents will not be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards Ashcroft’s review of the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP—see March 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo contains a legal review by Ashcroft of President Bush’s order authorizing the TSP, the Bush administration’s name for its warrantless wiretapping program. The review is requested before one of the 45-day reauthorizations by the president as required by law. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Terrorist Surveillance Program, American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General John Ashcroft tells a Senate committee, “This administration rejects torture.” [Guardian, 6/9/2004] When asked whether torture might be justified in certain situations, Ashcroft responds, “I condemn torture. I don’t think it’s productive, let alone justified.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] With regard to President Bush’s involvement, he says: “Let me completely reject the notion that anything that this president has done or the Justice Department has done has directly resulted in the kind of atrocity which were cited. That is false.” [Guardian, 6/9/2004] Ashcroft adds, “There is no presidential order immunizing torture.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 208; Inter Press Service, 2/14/2006]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Chicago Tribune, Charles Tiefer, Bush administration (43), ChoicePoint, Israel Aircraft Industries, Oracle Corporation, The Ashcroft Group, LTU Technologies, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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