Feds Finished Addressing Probe of Rep. Jerry Lewis
(CN) - After nearly three years and more than 2,000 man-hours, the government has sufficiently responded to the demand for information on its investigation of former Congressman Jerry Lewis.
As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Lewis, a Republican from California, "had substantial say over the fate of billions of federal dollars," the Wednesday ruling states.
"When some of those funds landed in the hands of clients of Lewis' close friends - and when those friends and clients donated some 37 percent of the $1.3 million that Lewis' political action committee received from 1999-2005 - a federal investigation followed," U.S. District Judge James Boasberg added. "Nothing came of that inquiry, though, and the Department of Justice ultimately declined to press charges.
"Perhaps suspicious of that outcome," the judge wrote, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for information related to the committee's spending.
Unsatisfied with the Justice Department's production, CREW filed suit in 2011, and
Boasberg found the government's production insufficient last year.
CREW still contested several categories of withheld documents, but Boasberg said Wednesday that the department had "finally" satisfied its FOIA obligations, after "nearly three years and more than two thousand man-hours."
"On their face, most of the documents the government seeks to withhold appear to be classic attorney work product, the disclosure of which would risk putting the government lawyers' strategy on public display," Boasberg wrote. "These records include research and analysis, as well as recommendations about possible courses of action, created in preparation for litigation."
Rejecting CREW's characterization of these papers as administrative documents, Boasberg said "an attorney's mental impressions and strategies can be revealed even by documents that may, at first glance, be characterized as 'administrative' rather than 'substantive.'"
Though the Justice Department had, on its third review of responsive materials, "identified two documents among the 168 sampled records that were improperly withheld and thus could be released," Boasberg said this observation did not taint the government's conduct.
"Two mistakes out of 168 documents ... - an error rate of just over one percent - does not come close to the kind of error rate that has prompted courts to require further disclosures," the 16-page opinion states.
CREW named Lewis one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress in its 2009 report, accusing him of using his position as the chair of the House Appropriations Committee to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to cronies in exchange for campaign contributions.
First elected to Congress in 1978, Lewis announced in 2012 that he would not seek re-election when his term ended in January 2013.