FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Feds refuse to release US attorneys' resignation letters

FOIA News (2017)Kevin SchmidtComment

Feds refuse to release US attorneys' resignation letters

By Adam Silverman, Burlington Free Press, April 6, 2017

The Justice Department is refusing to disclose letters of resignation from U.S. attorneys who left their posts at the request of the Trump administration.

The letters — sent by public officials in response to a directive from the president and the attorney general — are so "inherently personal" that they are exempt from release, a Justice Department lawyer wrote in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request from the Burlington Free Press.

Open-government experts questioned that reasoning.

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Five FOIA experts who spoke with the Free Press this week took issue with that reasoning — including a former Justice Department lawyer who worked exclusively on freedom-of-information requests and appeals.

"As a FOIA matter, this is a pretty clear-cut mistake," said Allan Blutstein, who served from 2004-09, mostly during the administration of Republican President George W. Bush. Blutstein now is vice president of FOIA operations at America Rising, a conservative political action committee.

Blutstein said the Justice Department's denial letter and the speed with which Brinkmann sent it — less than 10 days after receiving the request — suggest department staff conducted no search for responsive records and relied instead on the belief that all the resignation letters are exempt from disclosure.