Conyers Sends New Letters to Agencies, Continues to Amend Request by 52 Congressmen, Argues Fees Should be Waived as Agencies Keep Up Stonewall
DoD, State, Question House Members' Ability to 'Disseminate Info to Public'
By Brad Friedman on 4/21/2006, 10:31am PT  

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) is continuing his negotation, on behalf of more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, for the release of documents related to the Bush Administration's plans for War in Iraq long prior to the beginning of hostilities, according to new letters written by the ranking member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and obtained exclusively by The BRAD BLOG.

After the revelations in Spring of 2005 from the so-called Downing Street Memo and other related documents --- a series of secret memos created by British officials documenting Bush Administration efforts to "fix" the "intelligence and facts...around the policy" of going to war with Iraq no matter what --- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were filed by 52 House Members [PDF], including Conyers, for the release of documentation of Administration Iraq policies going as far back as the day after the 2000 Election.

The original FOIA requests were filed [PDF] with both the Departments of Defense and State, in June of 2005 after the disclosure in May, by Sunday Times of London, of the initial memo. Both federal agencies have largely stonewalled in response to the request. Correspondence from the agencies have claimed that the House Members must first agree to pay large fees for the requested material on the grounds that they do not meet FOIA standards which allow such fees to be waved.

The Dept. of Defense has estimated [PDF] the fees chargeable for answering the FOIA request would be approximately $110,000. The State Department has not yet given a similar estimate, but has also informed the members that they would have to agree in advance to such payment.

FOIA, however, allows such processing and copy fees to be waived in cases where the information provided will be widely circulated to the public and will "contribute significantly to the public understanding of activities or operations of the government."

Several communications from both DoD and State have suggested that since the requests for information did not come formally from a U.S. House Committee, the members' request does not meet the standard required for waiving fees or expediting the release of the information.

Conyers' disagrees...

In letters sent Wednesday to both agencies, Conyers points out that, of the 52 members who originally made the request, "seven...are members of the House Judiciary Committee and four are members of the House International Relations Committee." Both committees are the appropriate bodies, the letter charges, for conducting oversight into these particular matters.

As well, Conyers points out in his letters that the House Judiciary Committee minority members have so far released two major investigative reports, both widely circulated at no cost to the public. The first was their landmark report on the 2004 Election, and the next, released earlier this year, was a report on the War on Iraq and the Constitutional Crisis presented in light of allegations of manipulated intelligence, torture and other charges against the Administration. The letters indicate the members intend to use the information received from the FOIA requests as part of their continuing investigation into the matters which will be released via another major report.

A spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee Democrats has told The BRAD BLOG in an email communication, that the various refusals to produce documentation in a timely manner from Administration agencies has been a continuing problem for those charged with Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch.

"Unfortunately, this is a pattern of behavior for the Bush White House," the spokesman wrote. "[They have] ignored all of our requests for information which they are statutorily required to respond to within a twenty day period."

The latest letters, responding to the agencies --- linked in full exclusively below --- further attempt to both narrow the request for documents related to the period in question, and explain how the information should clearly meet the FOIA provisions for the waiving of associated processing fees.

"We believe that we have satisfactorily met the concerns expressed by the agencies for qualifying for the fee waiver and are waiting for what should be an easy decision in our favor," the spokesman wrote in reply to our question of what the members expected to do next, should the agencies still fail to comply with their request.

Neither the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, nor the International Relations Committee has held a single official hearing or heard from even one witness on any of these matters since the Downing Street documents were first revealed almost a year ago.

The Judiciary Committee Democrats held their own hearing to investigate the Downing Street documents in June of last year in a small room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building after Republicans denied them the use of an official hearing room. All Republican members of the Committee, though they were invited, refused to attend. As well, the House Leadership scheduled an historically unprecedented 11 roll-call votes in a row that day in apparent hopes of disrupting the hearings.

Another confidential memo, written by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's top foreign policy advisor just after a two-hour long January 31, 2003 White House meeting between Bush and Blair, confirmed much of what was contained in the original Downing Street Memo. That later memo, as first revealed by British author Phillipe Sands, and reported just last month by The New York Times, outlined Bush's plan to invade Iraq even without a resolution from the United Nation's Security Council --- as the Administration had originally promised to receive before taking military action --- and "even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons."

The first page of Conyers' letter to Will Kammer, Chief of the Department of Defense Office of Freedom of Information is below. The full letter to Kammer, as well as to Charlene Wright Thomas, Chief of the Requestor/Liaison Division of the State Dept. Office of Information Programs & Services are available via PDF here:

-- Conyers' 4/19/06 Letter to Will Kammer, DoD
-- Conyers' 4/19/06 Letter to Charlene Wright Thomas, Dept. of State