Friday, August 15, 2014

Former CBS Correspondent, Sharyl Attkisson, is suing Dept. of Health and Human Services

Former CBS Correspondent, Sharyl Attkisson is taking the Department of Health and Human Services to court.


As she explains on her website  , "...Squeezing public documents from federal officials hasn’t been easy for me under any administration. But, like many journalists, advocacy groups and members of the public, I’ve found out the hard way that the Obama administration has taken obstruction and secrecy to new heights..."  And she says:
"...I began filing simple Freedom of Information requests regarding in October of 2013. Under the law, with few exceptions, such requests are to be filled within just a few weeks. In my experience, they never are. They languish for months and years until the story for which documents are sought is long over. Even if one files a lawsuit to force the government to follow the law, the court cases can be time-consuming and so the government’s stall tactics are still effective. That’s one reason why journalists often don’t bother to sue..."
So, why is she suing then?  Why would this suit be different?

She says that it's because this time she is partnering with Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group "...that has had a great deal of success in suing the federal government for improperly denying FOI requests..."  Says Attkisson:
"...They have full time FOI expert attorneys on staff and have no problem holding the government’s feet to the fire on improperly withheld public documents. One example is Fast and Furious. Another is Benghazi. They have even had more success, at times, than Congress in getting sought after materials..."
According to Judicial Watch, the Attkisson suit wants to find out the following:

  • All materials, communications, emails and/or documents in which HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and/or CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner is copied and/or a party to, which mention and/or refer to, whether directly or indirectly, enrollment figures regarding, FMM, and/or state exchanges.  This request includes, but is not limited to, actual enrollment data; any decision(s) related to whether to not and/or when to make the information public; the decisions(s) and/or discussions about waiting until November of 2013 to make the information public; and talking points or communications regarding public statements and/or preparation for Congressional testimony.
  • All communications, whether written or otherwise recorded, including but not limited to: emails, memos, report and phone records that mention, pertain to, or otherwise refer to, whether directly or indirectly, tests and/or assessments of any sort surrounding the Federally Facilitated Marketplace,, the Data Hub, or any other component related to the Affordable Care Act. This includes, but is not limited to, performance tests, security tests and functionality tests.  The scope of this request is limited to the time period from June 1, 2013 to present.
  • All communications, whether written or otherwise recorded, including but not limited to: emails, memos, report and phone records that mention, pertain to, or otherwise refer to, whether directly or indirectly, performance tests and or assessments and/or their results conducted regarding between September 15, 2013 and September 30, 2013.  This request includes, but is not limited to, tests in which CMS employees took part as mock users trying out the website prior to its launch.
  • All emails, records, documents and other communications, whether written or otherwise recorded, regarding FOI requests made about, whether by name or implication, in which the following CMS officials are a sender and/or receiver and/or a party to and/or mentioned, whether by name or implication: Janis Nero; Joseph Tripline; Deborah Peters, Vendetta Dutton; and Danean Jones.  Please note the records request is specifically for communications dating from May 12, 2014 to present.

In a media dispatch to the press, Judicial Watch explained that the "...lawsuit on behalf of Attkisson seeks to discover records needed to establish accountability for the disastrous rollout, including the internal decision-making procedures used by top HHS officials. On the day of the launch, CMS Administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, responded to questions from the press regarding enrollment numbers by saying, 'We have just decided not to release that yet.' The process for making the decision to withhold those numbers is included in Attkisson’s FOIA request and subsequent suit..."

Documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal information contrary to those claims.

According to JW, "...In May, Judicial Watch released a 106-page document obtained from HHS, revealing that on its first full day of operation, Obamacare’s received only one enrollment. The document, obtained in response to a November 25, 2013, FOIA lawsuit against HHS, also revealed that on the second day of operation, 48% of registrations failed..." 

Last week the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman, Darrell Issa revealed that the Committee had been notified by HHS that they could not honor a request for emails concerning the ObamaCare website roll-out because they "might not be retrievable." A letter from Jim R. Esquea, Assistant Secretary for Legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services, said:
"...In the course of compiling and reviewing the documents ... we determined that some of [Senior HHS Executive] Ms. [Marilyn] Tavenner's potentially responsive emails might not be retrievable.  It appears that most, but not all, of the Administrator's email records were sent within HHS and therefore were likely saved within HHS records.  While we have not identified any specific emails that we will be unable to retrieve, it is possible that some emails may not be available to HHS..."
Chairman Issa expressed his disdain by saying that:
" that a senior HHS executive destroyed emails relevant to a congressional investigation means that the Obama Administration has lost or destroyed emails for more than 20 witnesses, and in each case, the loss wasn’t disclosed to the National Archives or Congress for months or years, in violation of federal law...It defies logic that so many senior Administration officials were found to have ignored federal recordkeeping requirements only after Congress asked to see their emails. Just this week, my staff followed up with HHS, who has failed to comply with a subpoena from ten months ago. Even at that point, the administration did not inform us that there was a problem with Ms. Tavenner’s email history. Yet again, we discover that this Administration will not be forthright with the American people unless cornered..."  [See that report HERE]
Maybe the Judicial Watch / Attkisson lawsuit is the "cornering" that is needed to get some results.

Attkisson expressed her confidence in Judicial Watch, according to the dispatch, saying:
"...For years, I’ve watched Judicial Watch’s dogged tenacity produce success in using FOIA lawsuits to obtain documents from a secretive government, whether under President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama, that often had utter contempt for me on other investigative journalists...Journalists and Americans interested in the truth about Washington under any administration can look to Judicial Watch and its work....”
Already, however, a government monkey-wrench has been tossed into the Freedom of Information Act suit's gears.  Attkisson said on her website:
"...The day I filed suit, HHS informed Congress that it had apparently deleted some documents Congress and I are seeking. If federal officials have irrevocably destroyed key emails, even a court cannot order them materialized out of thin air. But perhaps a court can help get to the bottom of what occurred..."
But she seemed guardedly optimistic. Said Attkisson:
"...It doesn't hurt to try..."

Vanguard of Freedom

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