I am pleased to announce that I will be a contributor to the Motley Fool.
What if there is a particular day when you fall out of faith?
There was at least that for me: July 12, 2015.
I didn’t expect that that would launch an existential crisis, though the departure of my wife and rejection by family didn’t help.
But I had to get out of a cult, and that came during an extraordinary cultural time in the United States. “Star Wars” returned to the big screen and Donald Trump was elected president, resulting in a public questioning of institutions.
Along the way came insights, narratives, or thoughts I had that I may not have thought otherwise.
A man whose career is to promote government transparency confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice violated federal public-information law when it failed to respond to a media outlet’s Freedom of Information Act for the report of special counsel Robert Mueller within the time frame the statute requires. Federal government agencies break the timeliness law often, but “neither agencies nor courts give a f — -,” said Sai (the only reported name), owner of Fiat Fiendum, which seeks more government transparency through efforts like first-release FOIA disclosures.
“Imagine if the government actually obeyed its own laws,” Sai said when asked for verification that the Justice Department Office of Information Policy broke 5 U.S. Code § 552(a)(6)(E)(ii)(I) after Law & Transparency studied it along with 5 U.S.C. § 552 in general.
The particular provision of law mentioned says that government agencies must notify a person requesting public information “within 10 days after the date of the request.” But Douglas Hibbard’s OIP responded to the San Francisco Public Press’ request for the report of the Mueller investigation 13 days after the date of the Press’ request (on April 4 after a March 22 request).
5 U.S.C. § 552 concerns “public information; agency rules, opinions, orders, records, and proceedings,” according to the title of the law.
“Simple answer: yeah they broke the law,” Sai wrote. “The government gets to do that without consequences; you don’t.”
The American Civil Liberties Union did not return a request for comment.
“A tiny handful of agencies” will not treat deadline statutes like the one in the particular provision of law mentioned wildly differently as mandated — “that seem to believe that ‘10 days’ and ‘20 days’ do mean ‘days’ and not ‘months,’” Sai said.
Those are “mainly the ones whose FOIA ‘department’ is the in-house (lawyer’s) part-time job,” he wrote.
“Also, cities like (San Francisco) treat it legitimately seriously, and due respect to them,” Sai said. “But that’s very much the exception, not the rule.”
Aside from a pattern and practice injunction, “there’s no remedy” for the Justice Department’s transgression, Sai said. A pattern and practice injunction is a distinctive court order that makes a party have to do keep from doing a particular thing, citing a systematic practice of it previously.
But “no court” will grant that, Sai wrote.
“They universally view the time periods in the statute as a wildly aspirational joke that Congress made when writing the law so … they’re not going to enforce it,” he said.
“I don’t know of any FOIA case that has treated any deadline in the statute as anything but a standing issue or a technicality for fees and costs award basis,” Sai added. “They don’t even give it lip service, textualism be damned.”
“There’s nothing you can do” about agencies nor courts caring for “timeliness violations,” “except treat it as the day you get to file your lawsuit,” Sai wrote.
The Mueller investigation looked into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice, according to The Washington Post. The “basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society,” according to the same Justice Department.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who is over the Justice Department, is anticipated to put out a redacted Mueller report to Congress and the public on Thursday morning, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, according to CNN.
The United States Department of Justice has delayed responding to Freedom of Information Act requests of the report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The DoJ appears to have done this as allowed by federal law on public information.
“We will need to extend the time limit to respond to your request beyond the 10 additional days provided by the statute,” reads a DoJ letter signed by DoJ Chief of Initial Request Staff Douglas Hibbard and addressed to me. A subsection of the law says that “if agency (dealing with a FOIA request) has determined that unusual circumstances apply … a failure … is excused for an additional 10 days.”
The request, reads the letter, fits the criteria of “unusual circumstances” as defined in another subsection of the law, 5 U.S.C. 552, which was assessed by me as it applies to the letter. Those circumstances, the DoJ says, are that the request “requires a search in another office, consultations with other department components or another agency, and/or involves a voluminous amount of material.”
The report was the result of an investigation led by Mueller that concerned Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and if U.S. President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice. The “basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society,” according to the same DoJ.
The Mueller report is reportedly nearly 400 pages.
The DoJ is “processing other requests seeking records similar to those you have requested,” the DoJ wrote in the letter.
The letter appears to be a form letter sent to at least one other media outlet, the San Francisco Public Press.
“At this time we have assigned your request to the complex track,” the letter reads. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall … provide to each person making a request the tracking number assigned to the request.”
“We use multiple tracks to process requests,” the letter reads. “The time needed to complete our work on your request will necessarily depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of our records search, the volume and complexity of any material located, and the order of receipt of your request.”
I sent the request on March 25 and got its letter April 2. Press Senior Editor Michael Winter sent his request on March 22, he wrote, and got his letter April 4.
Regarding a possible cost of the report, “Any decision with regard to the application of fees will be made only after we determine whether fees will be implicated for this request,” the letter read.
The DoJ is led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who provided a four-page letter summary of the report on March 24 to congressional committee leaders.
Along with mine and the Press’, the DOJ has granted processing of other requests “on an expedited basis.” The DOJ is granting the expedition at least for me and the Press’ because of the other requests for “similar” documents, the letter read. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall promulgate regulations … providing for expedited processing of requests for records.”
I had to wear the brace pictured because I got carpal tunnel, as the doctor said, in an effort to do speak-truth-to-power journalism (samples below).
Also, I did that work mostly for free.
Then, I had to leave my apartment early.
I am not asking even for a livable wage, but just a stipend (link: https://www.gofundme.com/keep-on-with-truth-to-power-stipend).
Hopefully, this is a reasonable request because I am not simply asking for money, but for even recompense for hundreds of hours of research, interviews, writing and past-midnight (and overnight) labor.
Stories that won awards for last year:
“What do town halls in the wake of Trump say about Utah politicians?”: I attended many functions throughout Utah that were held shortly after the election, besides researching for the most-appropriate links.
“Heard of a ‘dry Mormon?’ Turns out, there are quite a few dry Mormon … transhumanists“: I held a conference call with the board of the organization and traveled to attend their meetings.
The Inquisitr profile: Includes stories on the rise of Democratic candidates in Utah, a breaking report of the Mormon church ending its home teaching program and aggregates of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump.
portfolio: Includes descriptions and links to nine stories that got awards from the Society of Professional Journalists or Religion Newswriters Association.
Daily Herald profile: Includes a report of the county attorney’s decision on rape by a Mormon leader and another about a case about a filmed assisted suicide which hearing was covered by CBS.
“Before Your Time” played in every Megaplex theater in Utah.
Megaplex Theatres is the largest movie theater chain in the state.
I am grateful to have been involved in its creation, as a screenwriter, production assistant, grip and extra, and in media outreach.
- After the loss of their mother, 17-year-old Dylan, his two sisters, and father are forced to move back to the small town where their parents met and grew up. While getting back on their feet, the family stays with their eccentric Aunt Norah and tries to adjust to a new life. They meet a quirky neighborhood kid, Pete, who convinces them to embark on a bucket list-type adventure inspired by a list found in their Dad’s high school storage boxes. The task is not as easy as it seems and ultimately teaches everyone about managing grief, moving forward, and the importance of family.
- Production assistant for several scenes
- Helped with setup many times, including during a storm
- Was a grip until nearly midnight
- Got three news stories placed
- Internal communication to actors to ensure their attendance for scenes
I wrote the following op-ed and it was picked up by USA TODAY:
Gov. Gary Herbert used the term “let us reason together” when suggesting that the outdoor retailer shows were in the wrong in leaving over Herbert and Utah politicians’ land grab efforts.
One must wonder if he realized that Utahns might find it reasonable for the shows to leave given that the land grab efforts, in one case, would have cost $14 million (a lawsuit); in another, was not considerate enough of tribal concerns (the Public Lands Initiative); and in a third, were trying to undo something that had already been done (a resolution to President Trump — from a different level of government — to rescind former President Obama’s Bears Ears designation) when that act of undoing (reversing national monument designations) has never even been done before.
Or at the least, Herbert realized that Utahns would frown on a major economic driver leaving town, one that brought 40,000 visitors and $45 million to the state each year.
The cards against him, Herbert did what tyrants have done: Deploy religious rhetoric to manipulate deep convictions for political gain. “Let us reason together” comes from Isaiah 1 of the Judeo-Christian world and a form of that phrase is found in Mormon scripture (D&C 50). Surely, he must have known that even if Utahns generally weren’t going to absolutely hammer him, the highest-profile and most influential of business leaders would.
This must certainly include Scott Anderson, the Zions Bank CEO, so powerful in Utah that he may as well be another powerful politician. But Anderson is also a devout Latter-day Saint — those close to him have said that he will leave his Zions post only after he is assigned as an LDS mission president. Anderson runs a bank that has had church association.
Gary Herbert trying to manipulate the Scott Andersons. Boy. I’d say that’s sad for Herbert, except in his policy approach and communications on this affair, he created his own rock and hard place.
Rhett Wilkinson lives in Centerville. He was a staffer on Herbert’s 2012 re-election campaign and interned in the governor’s communications office.