Records could shed light on DOJ’s communications with Chairman Hensarling, reveal guidance to agencies

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for records that could reveal whether the agency’s Office of Information Policy or Office of Legislative Affairs was involved with a controversial, and legally dubious, directive from the House Committee on Financial Services concerning the processing of records under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  The suit also seeks records of related communications between DOJ and twelve federal agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction.

In May 2017, CoA Institute filed a FOIA request with the DOJ in response to reports that Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, directed the Department of the Treasury and eleven other agencies to treat all records exchanged with the Committee as “congressional records” not subject to the FOIA.

CoA Institute Counsel Ryan Mulvey: “Through its Office of Information Policy, the DOJ is responsible for overseeing government-wide compliance with the FOIA.  The DOJ likely would have been consulted by agencies that received Chairman Hensarling’s letter, as well as by the Committee itself when it was considering the directive.  The public deserves to know how and to what extent DOJ FOIA experts have been involved in formulating and implementing this new anti-transparency policy.’”

Because Congress is not subject to the FOIA, a request for records that have been exchanged with the legislative branch can present unique difficulties for an agency.  The law and well-established court precedents require that Congress manifest a clear intent to maintain control over specific records to keep them out of reach of the FOIA.  Chairman Hensarling’s directive is ineffective in this respect.  The mere fact that an agency possesses a record that relates to Congress, was created by Congress, or was transmitted to Congress, does not, by itself, render it a “congressional record.”  Any deviation from the acknowledged standard for defining a “congressional record” would frustrate the FOIA and impede transparent government.

CoA Institute’s complaint is available here.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications: