The late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman died at age 52 late last year while his Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Treasury Department was being processed. Pitman had asked the Treasury in January 2009 to identify $301 billion of securities owned by Citigroup that the government had agreed to guarantee. Pitman made the request on the quaint understanding that taxpayers ought to know how their money was being used.
More than 20 months later, after saying at least five times that a response was imminent, Treasury officials responded with 560 pages of printed-out e-mails, none of which Pittman requested. None of the documents responded to Pittman’s request for “records sufficient to show the names of the relevant securities” or the dates and terms of the guarantees.
The government withheld 866 pages of documents, asserting that each was exempt from disclosure under FOIA on one of four grounds: trade secrets, personnel rules and practices, memos subject to attorney-client privilege and violations of personal privacy. Bloomberg News tells the story in “Treasury shields Citigroup as deletions undercut disclosure,” from which I have freely drawn here.
The government also cited the trade-secrets exemption in responding to a separate, similar FOIA request by Bloomberg News for details about Citigroup’s segregated bad assets. In that response, 73 of 104 pages were completely blacked out except for headings. Only six pages — the cover, contents, a boilerplate list of legal disclosures and a paragraph titled “FOIA Request for Confidential Treatment” — were free of redactions.
The Bloomberg News report adds that the federal government is Citigroup is the largest shareholder in Citigroup as of October 1, according to regulatory filings. “Taxpayers’ stake, 12.4 percent, was three times the second-largest investor’s.”
The government’s response to Bloomberg’s FOIA request suggests that secrets of state are being kept under wraps. The CIA used to call its big secrets “the family jewels.” Is the government now protecting the family junk?
UPDATE: Via Instaupundit, I meant to link to this report by J.P Freire of the Treasury hiring FOIA officers to “withhold information from release” to the public. It’s a full-time job.
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