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Q&A: Peering into Obama's opaque government

| Friday, June 29, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan watchdog organization founded in 1994 to ferret out in- stances of government wrongdoing.

Fitton spoke to the Trib about his upcoming book, β€œThe Corruption Chronicles: Obama's Big Secrecy, Big Corruption and Big Government,” which will be published later this month by Simon & Schuster.

Q: After nearly two decades, you've essentially crafted what amounts to a history of Judicial Watch and its watchdog efforts. What made you decide that now was the time to do this?

A: In order to place the misconduct of the Obama administration in context, you need to kind of go back to the prior two administrations. Arguably, you can go back further, but (Judicial Watch) has only been around since the Clinton administration. To get a full understanding of the problems of the Obama administration, you have to know the history involved β€” the aggressive secrecy of the Bush administration, and, frankly, the complete lawlessness of the Clinton administration.

Q: In 2008, when Obama promised to have the most transparent presidency in history, did you expect to have to file more than 800 Freedom of Information requests and more then 60 lawsuits against the administration?

A: No. I expected the normal (presidential) secrecy, but his aggressive lawlessness on transparency was a terrible surprise. I think the most critical transparency transgression is the administration's refusal to make available the full record of the Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac) entities, which are a black hole for the taxpayer. Not one document about their operations or what led to this monstrous taxpayer expense and government takeover of the mortgage market should be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act β€” or so (the administration) says. We can find out more about what the CIA is up to than Fannie or Freddie at this point.

Q: How difficult is it to attempt to bring transparency to government?

A: It's very difficult. The courts usually are too deferential to the executive branch on Freedom of Information Act issues.

Q: In your view, what has been the administration's worst scandal to date?

A: I think the (former Illinois Gov. Rod) Blagojevich scandal. There's good reason to believe that (Obama) knew or should have known that his Senate seat was being sold. That's how we began this administration, with Chicago corruption enveloping his former Senate office and his top advisers. That's a scandal that's resulted in someone being jailed, and I don't think we've had that with the other scandals.

Q: Is it fair to say the book's central thesis is that grassroots organizations such as Judicial Watch are vital to holding the government at least partially accountable?

A: Yes. The legacy media is essentially pro-government, (it's) not skeptical of the enterprise of government. Congress is often hapless and/or compromised itself.

And so you need these independent watchdog groups like Judicial Watch and others that are popping up. In terms of grassroots support, we are one of the largest (watchdog) groups, but we welcome other people coming into the fray with us in terms of making sure the government is accountable.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at eheyl@tribweb.com or 412-320-7857.

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