Western Values Project sues Justice Department to obtain correspondence with conservative groups

Suit seeks correspondence on legal justification for national monument rescission

Today, the Western Values Project filed suit after the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) failed to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The FOIAs, sent on May 31, 2017, request documents related to the national monument review being conducted by the Department of the Interior and any efforts to fabricate legal arguments that would allow the President to take an unprecedented step in revoking or reducing national monuments. Federal agencies are generally required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 businesses days.

“The Trump administration is stonewalling the release of public information as they try to fabricate legal loopholes to revoke or resize national monuments,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “Since political cronies and special interests asked the administration to repeal national monuments, it has been an all-hands-on-deck effort to find a legal justification that doesn’t exist. The Antiquities Act is clear, only Congress has the authority to resize or revoke a designated national monument.”

The FOIAs request all documents related to communications between the OLC and the following people or institutions:

The FOIAs also request correspondence involving the OLC staff on an opinion from September 15, 2000 titled Administration of Coral Reef Resources in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The legal opinion concluded that the president could use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish a national monument in the territorial sea. The opinion is consistent with numerous legal opinions regarding presidential authority to use the Antiquities Act to create a national monument and that only Congress can revoke or resize a monument.

View the FOIAs here and here.


John Yoo and Todd Gaziano published a report for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a group funded by oil and gas interests, spinning an unsupported legal justification for President Trump to revoke or resize national monuments. Yoo and Gaziano’s history undermines their attacks on the federal government’s long-standing view that national monuments cannot be revoked or reduced by a subsequent President.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, from 2001 until 2011, AEI accepted more than $3 million from Exxon Mobil, more than $145,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, and more than $1.1 million for Koch foundations. [Fossil Fuel Industry Funders of Climate Contrarian Groups, 2001-2011, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013]

The American Enterprise Institute was caught offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to undermine a climate report.

In 2007, AEI “approached scientists, economists and policy analysts” offering “$10,000 each… to undermine a major climate change report.” AEI allegedly “offered the payments for articles that emphasise [sic] the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” At the time, “Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, [was] the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees.” [Ian Sample, “Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study,” The Guardian, 02/02/07]

John Yoo has been accused of offering “slipshod legal advice” that is “in possible violation of international and federal laws on torture.”

In 2010, “ethics lawyers, in the Office of Professional Responsibility” at the Department of Justice “concluded that two department lawyers involved in analyzing and justifying waterboarding and other interrogation tactics — Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge, and John C. Yoo, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley — had demonstrated ‘professional misconduct.'” The Office “said the lawyers had ignored legal precedents and provided slipshod legal advice to the White House in possible violation of international and federal laws on torture.” [Eric Lichtblau & Scott Shane, “Report Faults 2 Authors of Bush Terror Memos,” New York Times, 02/19/10]

Todd Gaziano has a history of promoting extreme legal views and has said the President has “the power to request phone records and monitor [American] phone calls without a FISA warrant.” 

“Reports that the NSA secretly collected the phone records of millions of Americans and monitored the communications of people with ties to suspected terrorists have concerned many lawmakers…President Bush does have the power to request phone records and monitor phone calls without a FISA warrant,” Gaziano said. He suspects that the telephone record story was leaked to discredit Hayden one week before his confirmation hearing. “I would be very concerned if the government was not doing this because I want my family and fellow citizens to be safeguarded,” Gaziano said. “It’s not an accident that we have not had another serious attack in this country especially given the pledges from our terrorist enemies.” [Rebecca Carr, “More NSA surveillance abuses to come,” Cox News Service, 05/16/06]

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