The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) are suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Dr. Ben Carson, for denying their multiple Freedom of Information Act requests that may have cast a negative light on the agency and Carson in particular.
For example, the groups wanted to learn more about Carson’s involvement in the White House’s weekly Bible study sessions which first came to light last August. Were taxpayer-funded resources used for these sessions? It’s a legitimate question. But for some reason, whenever they asked HUD for information about these sessions, they couldn’t get the materials they requested.
Every department that FFRF has requested records from has dragged its feet, but Carson and HUD have thrown up additional arbitrary and illegal barriers. When FFRF asked for the records in August, it requested, as is typical with 501(c)(3) groups, a fee waiver. HUD denied that fee waiver the day of the request because the records were allegedly not in the public interest. FFRF filed a lengthy appeal and HUD again refused the waiver because the records FFRF was seeking supposedly did not relate to HUD operations or activities.
“If this bible study is legal and aboveboard, as the Trump administration and Fox News have argued, what are they trying to hide by torpedoing the FOIA process?” asks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
HUD also rejected records requests dealing with Carson’s appearance at the Museum of the Bible.
HUD also denied FFRF a fee waiver on a second request, filed in October, over Carson’s daily schedule and appearance at “Revive Us 2,” an event at the new Museum of the Bible. HUD refused the wavier the day after the FOIA request and denied FFRF’s appeal.
No further explanation was offered.
CREW hasn’t had any luck either when it comes to investigating charges of nepotism. They wanted to know details about what Carson’s son and wife do at HUD… but were blocked. Just as they were when they requested details about Carson’s use of a private plane.
The watchdogs are seeking the fee waivers they are due under the law, to enjoin HUD from unthinking, blanket denials of waivers, and attorneys’ fees and costs. They ask that in the public interest, their requests be finally granted.
All of this is in the public interest, and all of it has the potential to make Carson look even more inept than he is. That, however, is no excuse to reject the fee waivers or the information itself.
In an administration rife with legal problems, it’s clear that Trump isn’t the only bad egg in the bunch. Even conservatives should be furious at the lack of transparency.