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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

DOJ May Keep Some DeLay Docs Under Wraps

(CN) - The Department of Justice does not have to release several documents related to the FBI's investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's relationship with disgraced insider lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a federal judge ruled.

The FBI opened a corruption investigation into Abramoff activities in 2004. Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiring to cheat his clients, Native American tribes, of an estimated $85 million in fees, and bribing members of Congress. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

Two former DeLay staff members, Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy, were indicted along with 19 others in the Abramoff scandal, but DeLay announced in 2010 that the Justice Department had informed him he would not be criminally charged.

Shortly thereafter, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to the investigation.

In April 2014, U.S. District Judge Karen Henderson ruled that the department could not categorically refuse to turn over documents from the investigation in light of DeLay's "substantial privacy interests."

On Wednesday, another federal judge, U.S. District Judge, Richard Leon, held that the department had done enough.

Leon explained: FOIA "exempts from disclosure intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available to a party other than an agency in litigation with it."

Although the department failed to raise certain exemptions earlier in the litigation, the court allowed it to do so at this late stage.

Leon said: "In general, permitting a defendant to raise a new claim of exemption at this late stage could result in dragging a plaintiff back to the starting line. But that is not the case here" since the exemption "shields the material at issue from disclosure."

Leon also permitted the government to continue withholding the identities of third parties who provided information to the FBI regarding the investigation.

He concluded: "Plaintiff argues that those third parties who have been publicly identified as having been implicated in the investigation or who publicly testified in criminal trials have a minimal privacy interest. But individuals do not lose their privacy interest in avoiding unwarranted association with a criminal investigation merely because some information becomes publicly known."

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