Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler issued a ruling in CREW’s long-running case against the Department of Justice (DOJ) to uncover documents related to the department’s investigation of Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Today’s decision focuses on CREW’s Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the Alaska congressman’s role in including an appropriation for a road in Florida, known as the Coconut Road interchange, into a previously enrolled bill at the behest of a Florida campaign donor. In today’s decision, Judge Kessler agreed with DOJ that some documents may be withheld as the work product of prosecutors. The judge also allowed the department to withhold email exchanges regarding how to respond to press inquiries, under the theory that disclosing such material would “discourage candid discussion within the agency.”
In contrast, Judge Kessler sided with CREW in holding that the government may not categorically withhold documents to protect Rep. Young’s privacy. The court reiterated a holding in an earlier opinion in the same case, stating that Rep. Young’s privacy interest is “clearly diminished by the fact that DOJ’s investigations into his activity are ‘already a matter of public of record.’” The court also noted that the “public interest in this case is enhanced by the ‘added and decidedly uncommon fact’ that Congress passed a specific piece of legislation directing DOJ to investigate possible improprieties related to the ‘Coconut Road’ appropriation.” As a result, Judge Kessler ordered the government to once again review its documents and either release those previously withheld on the grounds of Rep. Young’s privacy interests or justify more specifically why those documents may be withheld. The court ordered DOJ to respond by August 1, 2013.
An earlier 2012 ruling in the same case had resulted in DOJ disclosing a substantial amount of information that government had attempted to withhold, much of which indicated Rep. Young had been involved in potentially criminal activities.
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