A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ordered the Justice Department to index documents related to a dropped FBI corruption investigation of Alaska Rep. Don Young and explain why each is being withheld from disclosure, Politico reports today. The FBI was wrong to categorically withhold all the documents, she ruled.
Acting in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said that while records of probes of private individuals are regularly withheld as a categorical matter, investigations into public officials should not be treated the same way. In addition, she rejected the Justice Department's arguments that the only reason to grant CREW's request would be if there was evidence of impropriety on the part of the federal agency that conducted the probe, in this instance, the FBI.
In a 16-page opinion posted here, Kessler wrote:
"It is difficult to understand how there could not be a substantial public interest in disclosure of documents regarding the manner in which DoJ handled high-profile allegations of public corruption about an elected official. Clearly, the American public has a right to know about the manner in which its representatives are conducting themselves and whether the government agency responsible for investigating and, if warranted, prosecuting those representatives for alleged illegal conduct is doing its job."
Young faced federal scrutiny on at least two fronts: his connections to the defunct Anchorage oil field services company Veco Corp. and two of its executives, Bill Allen and Rick Smith, who admitted making illegal payments to his campaign and buying him gifts; and the mysterious earmark in Young's highway bill for an interchange in Florida sought by a developer who contributed to Young's re-election in 2005.