Court reverses order keeping Fast and Furious docs secret
A federal appeals court has ordered that a case involving the release of some Fast and Furious documents should be returned to a lower court for "clarification."
The order gives investigators into the gun-walking scandal another opportunity to view documents that the Justice Department claims were under "non-disclosure rules."
At issue are a few dozen pages of documents that lawyers representing the Justice Department and the House hammered out in 2013, while discussing a settlement about the House’s lawsuit over “Fast and Furious.”
The government ultimately did not reach a settlement in those negotiations. It would take until this January for District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to demand that the Justice Department release documents about the failed “gun-walking” operation.
But in March 2013, the conservative legal watchdog organization Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking “any and all records of communications, correspondence and contacts” between the two parties during that attempt at a settlement.
The Obama administration refused to hand over the 32 pages of corresponding documents, claiming that they were under a “court-imposed non-disclosure” rules.
Judicial Watch sued. Another district court judge ruled in favor of the government in 2014.
In Friday’s ruling, however, the three-judge panel on the appeals court claimed that Jackson did not make an “explicit” request to “prohibit disclosure” of the documents when she ordered the mediation in 2013. Instead, she merely claimed that “I don’t want to know.”
“[I]t is equally plausible that Judge Jackson wanted simply to preserve her objectivity in case she ultimately were to preside over a trial,” appeals court Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote on behalf of the judges in Friday’s decision. “Accordingly, the intended effect of Judge Jackson’s order is ambiguous."
The appeals court ordered the matter back to a lower court so that Jackson could give “clarification” about “the intended effect and scope of her order.”
Judge Jackson is unlikely to overturn her original order to keep the documents secret. Ultimately, the issue will probably end up before the Supreme Court as the Obama administration fights to keep whatever is in those 32 pages from the public.
By the time this issue is decided in the courts, it is likely that the Obama administration will be long gone. But whatever is in those documents will still be relevant as investigators continue to try to unravel what went on with Fast and Furious.