Non-profit

Judicial Watch

Judicial Watch is a legal activist group that investigates alleged misconduct by government officials and political figures. The organization primarily relies on public records for its investigations and frequently files federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain information. [1] FOIA laws require federal agencies to fully or partially disclose their records upon request, with certain exceptions. [2]

Judicial Watch claims that it uses activism and litigation to educate Americans about government accountability. The organization also says that the information it reveals can help civil authorities prosecute corrupt public officials. Outside of legal efforts, Judicial Watch activists make appearances on television and radio news and publish opinion pieces in print publications. Additionally, the organization raises awareness of its work through advertisements and direct mail campaigns. [3]

Judicial Watch describes itself as nonpartisan, but acknowledges its right-of-center goals and principles. The organization provides legal support and training to “other conservatives” who are engaged in investigations and litigation. Judicial Watch primarily targets left-of-center officials and politicians, particularly the Clinton family – both President Bill Clinton throughout his presidency and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. [4] However, the organization also sued vice president Dick Cheney several times during George W. Bush’s presidency. [5]

History

Judicial Watch was founded in 1994 by activist lawyer Larry Klayman, who initiated multiple investigations and lawsuits into the activities of the Clinton administration. The organization was largely unsuccessful in securing legal victories, but did uncover evidence suggesting that the Department of Commerce had granted spots on international trade missions to Democratic donors. [6]

Following the 2000 presidential election, Klayman investigated ballots in Florida during the recount, a move which he says gave Republicans – who aimed to win the state – “heart attacks.” In the first two years of the Bush administration, Klayman helped the left-of-center Sierra Club sue for the records of vice president Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Judicial Watch also sued Cheney for alleged accounting fraud related to his former company Halliburton. [7] Cheney had served as chief executive officer of the oil services firm, which received multi-billion-dollar government contracts to provide logistical support to American forces in Iraq. [8]

Tom Fitton became president of Judicial Watch in 1998. Klayman left the organization in 2003. [9] He has unsuccessfully sued the organization several times since his departure. In June 2020, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Klayman from practicing law for 90 days after determining that his lawsuits against Judicial Watch amounted to switching sides. The court also ordered Klayman to take a remedial course on conflicts of interest. [10]

Activism

Judicial Watch has supported a variety of right-of-center legal causes, often through aggressive use of FOIA requests and lawsuits.

Internal Revenue Service Selective Enforcement

In April 2015, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after a Treasury Department investigation found that the IRS had unfairly targeted Tea Party and other right-of-center groups with audits. The organization filed the lawsuits after the IRS refused to comply with two FOIA requests to reveal its methods for selecting individuals and groups to audit. [11] In August 2018, the IRS agreed to pay $3.5 million in damages to those it had targeted. Judicial Watch followed up requesting that the government release the testimony of former IRS official Lois Lerner, who had enabled the apparently politically motivated audits and led the department which conducted the audits. [12]

Hillary Clinton Private Email Server

Judicial Watch has repeatedly requested and sued for information related to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. In 2015, federal judges re-opened two of the organization’s lawsuits after new information surfaced about Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office. The lawsuits led to hundreds of emails being released, and Judicial Watch received permission to depose Clinton and several of her former aides for questioning. [13] In August 2016, a Clinton spokesperson accused the organization of “distorting facts to make utterly false attacks.” Fitton responded that Clinton’s effort to “isolate and intimidate” investigators “doesn’t work anymore” because “the internet revolution has made access to the information much more accessible.” [14]

In March 2020, Judicial Watch received approval to depose Clinton to question her about the private email server. The organization had originally sued in 2014 after the government ignored a FOIA request for documents related to the 2012 attacks on American diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. In August 2020, however, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, claiming that Clinton’s use of the private server was not relevant to the FOIA lawsuit. Fitton said he was disappointed by the decision and that Judicial Watch would explore other options. [15]

Biden Senatorial Records

In June 2020, Judicial Watch teamed up with the Daily Caller News Foundation to sue the University of Delaware for failing to respond to a FOIA request asking for records from President Joe Biden’s career in the Senate. The court dismissed their lawsuit, claiming that the information is not public record since no public funds are used to maintain them. Judicial Watch appealed the decision, arguing that it was impossible for public funds to not be involved since the University of Delaware receives approximately $120 million in state funds every year. The organization also argued that storage space and staff to maintain the records at the university were paid for with this funding. [16]

2020 Election Irregularities

During the 2020 election, Judicial Watch investigated issues with state voter rolls. In October 2020, the organization published a report claiming that more than 350 counties across the United States had more registered voters than they had citizens eligible to vote. [17] In December, Judicial Watch issued a statement partially backing President Donald Trump’s statements challenging the integrity of the election, saying that “when it comes to voting rolls, he’s right.” [18]

Leadership

Tom Fitton has worked as president of Judicial Watch since 1998. [19] In 2015, Fitton received the American Conservative Union’s “Defender of the Constitution” award. [20] In October 2020, President Donald Trump selected Fitton to serve on the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, which oversees judges in Washington, D.C. [21]

Paul Orfanedes is the director of litigation and Chris Farrell is the director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch. [22] Farrell is also a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a right-of-center national security think tank. [23] Fitton, Orfanedes, and Farrell are Judicial Watch’s three board officers. [24]

Controversies

After leaving Judicial Watch, Larry Klayman sued the organization several times, a move that eventually earned him a temporary suspension from practicing law, as he had served as general counsel for Judicial Watch and these lawsuits were judged a conflict of interest. [25] Tom Fitton said that Klayman’s claims of “fraud, disparagement, defamation, false advertising, and other egregious acts” were “full of lies and distortions.” [26]

After breaking with Judicial Watch, Klayman founded Freedom Watch. He has criticized Fitton for lacking a legal background and allegedly shifting the organization’s focus from “hard hitting lawsuits” to “just uncovering just documents [sic].” He also claims that Fitton has “turned the organization into his own fiefdom.” [27]

Financials

Judicial Watch saw its annual contributions spike from just over $19 million to $29 million between 2013 and 2014. [28] As of 2016, Judicial Watch had an annual budget of approximately $35 million. One of the organization’s top financial backers is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which funds right-of-center organizations and publications. [29]

References

  1.         “A Message From President Tom Fitton,” Judicial Watch. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/about/ ^
  2.          “Freedom of Information Act Law and Legal Definition,” US Legal. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://definitions.uslegal.com/f/freedom-of-information-act/ ^
  3.        “A Message From President Tom Fitton,” Judicial Watch. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/about/ ^
  4.       Jonathan Mahler, “Group’s Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again,” The New York Times, October 12, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/politics/judicial-watch-hillary-clinton.html ^
  5.        Alex Leary, “Meet the conservative group that’s driving Clinton’s email scandal,” Tampa Bay Times, October 8, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article106738447.html ^
  6.         Alex Leary, “Meet the conservative group that’s driving Clinton’s email scandal,” Tampa Bay Times, October 8, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article106738447.html ^
  7.        Alex Leary, “Meet the conservative group that’s driving Clinton’s email scandal,” Tampa Bay Times, October 8, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article106738447.html ^
  8.   John Burnett, “Examining Halliburton’s ‘Sweetheart’ Deal in Iraq,” NPR, December 22, 2003. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1559574 ^
  9.        Alex Leary, “Meet the conservative group that’s driving Clinton’s email scandal,” Tampa Bay Times, October 8, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article106738447.html ^
  10.     Debra Cassens Weiss, “Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman is suspended for switching sides after leaving the group,” ABA Journal, June 17, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judicial-watch-founder-suspended-for-switching-sides-after-leaving-the-group ^
  11.               “Judicial Watch Sues Internal Revenue Service For Records on Tea Party Audits,” Judicial Watch, April 14, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2021.https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-releases/judicial-watch-sues-internal-revenue-service-for-records-on-tea-party-audits/ ^
  12.             Stephen Dinan, “Tea party groups get revenge against IRS as judge approves $3.5 million payout,” The Washington Times, August 9, 2018. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/aug/9/judge-approves-35-million-settlement-irs-tea-party/ ^
  13.      Jonathan Mahler, “Group’s Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again,” The New York Times, October 12, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/politics/judicial-watch-hillary-clinton.html ^
  14.             Alex Leary, “Meet the conservative group that’s driving Clinton’s email scandal,” Tampa Bay Times, October 8, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article106738447.html ^
  15.        Alex Swoyer, “Federal court blocks Hillary Clinton deposition in watchdog lawsuit,” The Washington Times, August 14, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/aug/14/hillary-clinton-deposition-judicial-watch-lawsuit-/ ^
  16.        “Judicial Watch and Daily Caller News Foundation Appeal Court Decision about Hidden Biden Senatorial Records,” Judicial Watch, February 2, 2021. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-releases/jw-dc-biden-records/ ^
  17.        “New Judicial Watch Study Finds 353 U.S. Counties in 29 States with Voter Registration Rates Exceeding 100%,” Judicial Watch, October 16, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-releases/new-jw-study-voter-registration/?utm_source=deployer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=press+release&utm_content=20201204224426 ^
  18.        “Judicial Watch Confronts the Election Crisis,” Judicial Watch, December 11, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/investigative-bulletin/judicial-watchs-battle-with-ballot-fraud/ ^
  19.   “Judicial Watch Staff Team,” Judicial Watch. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/about/#staff ^
  20.        “Tom Fitton Named ACU “Conservative in the Spotlight,’” American Conservative Union. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.conservative.org/article/tom-fitton-named-acu-conservative-in-the-spotlight ^
  21.            Tal Axelrod, “Trump to tap conservative activist Tom Fitton to serve on judicial oversight body,” The Hill, October 3, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/519488-trump-to-tap-conservative-activist-tom-fitton-to-serve-on-judicial ^
  22.               “Judicial Watch Staff Team,” Judicial Watch. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/about/#staff ^
  23.         “Chris Farrell,” Gatestone Institute. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/biography/Chris+Farrell ^
  24. Judicial Watch, Staff, Accessed February 4, 2021. https://www.judicialwatch.org/about/#staff ^
  25.             Debra Cassens Weiss, “Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman is suspended for switching sides after leaving the group,” ABA Journal, June 17, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judicial-watch-founder-suspended-for-switching-sides-after-leaving-the-group ^
  26.             Jonathan Mahler, “Group’s Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again,” The New York Times, October 12, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/politics/judicial-watch-hillary-clinton.html ^
  27.           Larry Klayman, “The Difference Between Freedom Watch And Today’s Judicial Watch!,” Freedom Watch, June 20, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.freedomwatchusa.org/the-difference-between-freedom-watch-and-todays-judicial-wa ^
  28.   “Judicial Watch Inc,” ProPublica. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/521885088 ^
  29.      Jonathan Mahler, “Group’s Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again,” The New York Times, October 12, 2016. Accessed February 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/politics/judicial-watch-hillary-clinton.html ^
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