The Oct. 9, ABCs Peter Jennings Reporting one-hour special on NRAs political power ended with Jennings and Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, trading claims about the Clinton-Gore Administrations record of enforcement of federal gun laws.
The issue might have been resolved for the public if the Administrations Department of Justice had fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
But the Justice Department is denying news organizations, public interest groups and the general public access to comprehensive information about how the Clinton Administration has enforced the nations laws, according to TRAC.
The departments action became known when the Executive Officer for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) repudiated its agreement to release comprehensive records describing the criminal and civil cases handled by federal prosecutors nationwide. During the course of litigation brought by the TRAC, the EOUSA had acknowledged that the Freedom of Information Act requires that all of the case records and the vast majority of fields in these databases must be disclosed to the public. These critical records have not been released.
The Justice Department has not fully explained the reasons for clamping down on the data it previously had promised to provide TRAC, or its reasons for withholding information for current periods it had routinely released in the past.
EOUSAs reversal on releasing the data contradicts repeated statements by President Clinton and the Justice Department about the Administrations strong belief in the importance of the Freedom of Information Act.
The co-directors of TRAC, challenging the departments withholding action as unlawful under the provisions of the FOIA, have sued the EOUSA in federal court. TRAC is represented in this by the Public Citizen Litigation Group.
The blocking of the flow of government data means that the public is unable to obtain information required to accurately judge how the Clinton Administration, federal prosecutors and the federal investigative agencies actually are dealing with such subjects as protecting the environment, reducing gun violence, prosecuting pornographers and defending the American people against spies and terrorists.
TRAC claims that while withholding the full data from the public, the Justice Department itself has used some of the information in carefully restricted press releases and submissions to Congress to advance Clinton Administration policies and to respond to criticism from several House and Senate committees and elsewhere.
TRAC is a non-partisan data gathering research organization associated with Syracuse University. Since 1989, it has been receiving the same information on an annual basis and distributing it to the public. Six years ago, TRAC expanded general access to the data by making the information available on a series of six sites (http://trac.syr.edu) that are now widely used by the public.
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