Last year, federal Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) is covered under the Privacy Act. In that decision, Lamberth tartly added that “…this court holds that under the Privacy Act, the word ‘agency’ includes the Executive Office of the President, just as the Privacy Act says.”
So this year, the Obama White House comes back in the same case and asks Lamberth to grant a motion for summary dismissal, arguing that “the White House is not an agency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it necessarily follows that it is not an agency subject to the Privacy Act.”
Amazing, but true. This exchange is the latest installment in one of the longest-running courtroom dramas from the Clinton administration,Alexander v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, aka “Filegate.” Remember that one, when 400 FBI highly sensitive background investigative files on Republican luminaries mysteriously turned up in the Clinton White House.
Just “a bureaucratic miscue,” explained President Bill Clinton at the time.
One of those luminaries sued for invasion of privacy, and with the active participation of Judicial Watch, the case has remained alive for all these years since it was first filed in 1996. If Judicial Watch wins this case, the White House and the FBI could then be held liable for damages for violating the privacy rights of the people whose files were misused.
But the Obama White House is arguing that it cannot be held liable because it is not covered by the Privacy Act, even though the act says it does and Lambert believes the act's language means what it so clearly states.
Among the more interesting of the many twists and turns this case has seen over the years is the fact former President Clinton has now come over to Judicial Watch's point of view, telling historian Taylor Branch “those files did not belong at The White House,” and that they “should have been isolated and returned immediately.”
Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton explains the stakes in this long-running judicial clash: