DOJ Hiding Secret Weekly
Reports To The Attorney General

By Michael Ravnitzky

I am a reporter who works full time for a well-respected national news organization in the Washington, DC area. My news organization publishes more than 25 national and regional magazines and newspapers, primarily in the area of business and law, and at least two (Legal Times and The National Law Journal) primarily devoted to the activities of the justice system and of federal government agencies.
Last year I learned that the Department of Justice Office of Legislative Affairs (DOJ OLA) provided weekly legislative activity (i.e. DOJ lobbying) reports to the Office of the Attorney General. These reports are usually 2-3 pages in length.
I asked for a few of these reports under the Freedom of Information Act; those were provided in their entirety. Then I sent a letter, again citing FOIA, and requested a couple of years worth of these reports (still only a couple of hundred pages in all). Soon afterward, the roof fell in.
The news organization I work for routinely reports on Justice Department activities in several magazines and newspapers. Nevertheless, DOJ decided that I am no longer a representative of the news media. As a result, they declined to process our request without our payment of hundreds or thousands of dollars in search fees. Under the FOIA law, reporters should not be charged any search or review fees.
I found out soon afterward what had happened. A small office in DOJ called the Office of Information and Privacy runs training seminars for government FOIA managers in a variety of agencies. At one training session in November, 2001, the question came up of how to handle troublesome requests, including my request for legislative weekly reports to the Attorney General. The DOJ representative said that they were going to deny my status as a representative of the news media, despite the fact that I work full time for a national news organization and actively cover agency matters.
I learned this from a FOIA Manager who was in attendance at the seminar, and who also spoke to the group criticizing this decision. This manager told me that he thought their decision-making was highly improper.
Despite letters to the DOJ from the editor in chief of our news organization, as well as inquiries from our company General Counsel, the Justice Department is standing firm and suppressing the release of these reports by insisting that a reporter is not a reporter.
The Justice Department is now considering spreading this technique of hiding government documents to other agencies. If it is not halted now, this approach could keep reporters from learning about the activities of the government. This matter is too important to keep within the confines of a newsroom.
Apparently these documents which I requested are highly embarrassing or sensitive, since they are taking such extraordinary steps to prevent their release.
If I withdraw my request for these documents, which date back at least as far as the mid-1980s, they will undoubtedly be shredded under the Justice Department's document destruction schedules.
What can you do about this?
FIRST of all, these reports should be requested to prevent their immediate shredding. Once records are requested, the agency is obliged to retain the records until the request has been processed.
If anyone else is interested in these reports, you can request them, specifying the years that you are interested in , by sending a letter simply mentioning the Freedom of Information Act, and asking for
THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS WEEKLY REPORTS TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE YEARS XXXX - XXXX. (as of last month, they had these reports going back at least 15 years)
Office of Legislative Affairs -- Requests for Office of Legislative Affairs records should be addressed to:
Melanie Ann Pustay, Deputy Director
Office of Information and Privacy
Suite 570, Flag Building
Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530-0001
PHONE: 202: 514-FOIA
FAX: 202-514-1009
What lobbying activities are described in these reports that the Justice Department is willing to go to such great lengths to hide?
SECOND, you can contact the Office of Information & Privacy and ask them why they are squelching the release of these records.
If you would like any further information, you can contact me at 202-828-0328. I will provide copies of the relevant correspondence upon request to anyone from a newsroom or public interest or advocacy organization.

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