Federal Judge Orders Release Of Trump’s Former AG’s Financial Docs: Report
In another defeat for the Trump administration, a federal judge on Wednesday rejected a Justice Department’s motion to keep secret several financial disclosure forms submitted by former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in the days before his filings were formally accepted by ethics officials.
District Judge Trevor McFadden ruled that financial disclosures are ineligible for protection under an exemption protecting the confidentiality of policy-making debates, according to Politico.
“The Court is unpersuaded by DOJ’s ‘deliberative process’ arguments,” wrote McFadden, an appointee of President Donald Trump. “Whitaker’s draft forms do not bear the mark of the deliberative process.”
The ruling comes after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by BuzzFeed. McFadden noted that BuzzFeed was not seeking emails detailing the back-and-forth between Whitaker and his colleagues about the filings but simply the forms themselves.
From the report:
While the judge rejected DOJ’s bid for a categorical rule allowing secrecy for draft financial disclosures, he said he will allow the department to delete on privacy grounds any information that did not make it into the final reports because Justice officials decided Whitaker was not required to disclose it.
Whitaker was required to submit a financial disclosure soon after he became then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff in October 2017. However, for reasons that are unclear, Whitaker’s initial disclosure was not fully processed by Justice’s ethics personnel until about a year later, when Trump bypassed the DOJ’s usual lines of succession to name Whitaker as acting attorney general after Sessions resigned.
Whitaker’s finances came under scrutiny over the $1.2 million in salary he was paid by the obscure legal ethics nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust between 2014 and 2017, as well as his work for a patent-marketing firm that settled fraud allegations with the Federal Trade Commission last year.
Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general led to several legal challenges, but courts found them moot after Barr took over and ratified the department’s earlier decisions.