Judicial Watch

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Judicial Watch
Judicial Watch Logo.jpg
Motto Because no one is above the law!
Formation July 29, 1994; 23 years ago (1994-07-29)
Type 501(c)3
Purpose Government Watchdog
Headquarters 425 Third Street, SW
Washington, D.C., U.S. 20024
  • United States
Tom Fitton
Website www.judicialwatch.org

Judicial Watch is an American conservative non-partisan[1] watchdog group that files Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits to investigate alleged misconduct by government officials.[2] Founded in 1994, it has sued the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Most of its lawsuits have been dismissed.[2] As of October 2016 it was the plaintiff in more than 20 ongoing lawsuits involving Hillary Clinton.[2]


Judicial Watch was founded in 1994 by attorney and right-wing activist Larry Klayman, who hired the current president Tom Fitton before leaving in 2003.[2] Klayman has since accused Fitton of claiming credit for the early successes of Judicial Watch.[3]

Clinton Administration[edit]

Judicial Watch came to public attention after filing 18 lawsuits against the administration of Democratic U.S. President Bill Clinton and other figures in the Clinton administration. An early lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of the Western Center for Journalism (WCJ) in 1998. The lawsuit alleged a retaliatory audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The WCJ was investigating the death of Clinton deputy White House counsel Vince Foster at the time.[4]

The organization received considerable financial support from prominent Clinton critics, including $7.74 million from conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.[5] This led Clinton administration officials to accuse Judicial Watch of "abusing the judicial system for partisan ends".[6]

Bush Administration[edit]

In July 2003 Judicial Watch joined the environmental organization Sierra Club in suing the George W. Bush administration for access to minutes of Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force.[7] Judicial Watch was involved in a similar legal dispute with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2002 when the group filed a shareholder lawsuit against Halliburton. The lawsuit, which accused Halliburton of accounting fraud, alleged that "when Mr. Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton, he and other directors inflated revenue reports, boosting Halliburton's share price." [8] As reported by the Wall Street Journal the court filing claims the oil-field-services concern overstated revenue by a total of $445 million from 1999 through the end of 2001.[9]

In 2006, Judicial Watch sued the Secret Service to force the release of logs detailing convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House. This resulted in the release of a number of documents.[citation needed]

Major investigations and lawsuits[edit]

Commerce Department trade mission scandal[edit]

In 1995, Judicial Watch, Inc. filed an action in the District Court under the FOIA, seeking information from the Department of Commerce (DOC) regarding DOC's selection of participants for foreign trade missions. In May 1995, following a search in response to Judicial Watch's FOIA requests, DOC produced approximately 28,000 pages of nonexempt information and withheld about 1,000 documents as exempt. Disputes arose between the parties over the adequacy of DOC's search, and Judicial Watch charged that some DOC officials had destroyed or removed responsive documents. In December 1998, following discovery, the District Court granted partial summary judgment to Judicial Watch and ordered DOC to perform a new search.[10] During the investigation, Nolanda B. Hill, a business partner of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown testified that Brown had told her that first lady Hillary Clinton was the driving force behind the efforts to raise as much money as possible for President Clinton's reelection and the DNC. And further that, "...companies were being solicited to donate large sums of money in exchange for their selection to participate on trade missions of the Commerce Department." [11]

In 2006, Judicial Watch was awarded nearly $900,000 in attorney's fees and costs from the lawsuit related to the Clinton fundraising scandals.[12] The judge noted in his ruling that Judicial Watch's efforts prompted two congressional committees and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to investigate, and that the Commerce Department thereafter its policy for selecting trade mission participants.[13]

White House visitor logs[edit]

August 10, 2009 Judicial Watch sent a FOIA request to the US Secret Service asking for the following: "All official visitor logs and/or other records concerning visits made to the White House from January 20, 2009 to present."[14] In August 2011, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered the agency to process the group's data request.[15] The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia partially affirmed the decision, holding that the Secret Service did not have to produce records of visitors to the president's office.[15]

A similar Judicial Watch FOIA request forced the George W. Bush White House to release visitor logs in 2006.[16]

Operation Neptune Spear[edit]

Osama bin Laden, leader of the terror group al-Qaeda, was killed in Pakistan on May 1, 2011 in a joint operation by the United States Navy SEALs and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This operation was code-named Operation Neptune Spear.[17] On May 2, 2011 Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the Department of Defense and the CIA for photographs and videos of bin Laden taken during or after the operation.[18]

The Federal Government failed to produce any records within the required 20-day time period. In order to force compliance, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the DOD and CIA on June 8, 2011. On January 31, 2014, after legal wrangling, the Pentagon was forced to release Operation Neptune Spear documents to Judicial Watch. One obtained email had the subject line OPSEC Guidance / Neptune Spear and is proof that days after the original FOIA request U.S. Special Operations Commander, Admiral William McRaven ordered his subordinates to immediately destroy any Osama bin Laden photos they may have had.[19]

Kennedy assassination records[edit]

Judicial Watch filed a series of FOIA requests in fall 2012 with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after press outlets reported that the JFK Library was in possession of more than 60 boxes of records from Robert F. Kennedy's tenure as the U.S. Attorney General. Judicial Watch subsequently filed a FOIA request with NARA on December 5, 2012, on behalf of author/historian Max Holland seeking access to "Documents from the Robert F. Kennedy Papers Attorney General's Confidential File which have been identified by the JFK Assassination Records Review Board as assassination records."[20] The government failed to produce the requested documents and on February 12, 2013, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the NARA.[21]


Photo of a Judicial Watch letter

September 11, 2012: a group of heavily armed Islamist militia members attacked the United States' diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the violence, making it the first time since 1979 that a U.S. ambassador was killed in the line of duty.[22] In the aftermath, President Obama and senior administration officials identified an inflammatory YouTube video as the cause of the attack. Susan Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, went on several television shows and said that the violence was sparked by a "hateful video" disseminated on the Internet.[23]

In response, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the Department of State for records related to government talking points or updates on the Benghazi attack given to Ambassador Rice. The State Department failed to produce documents, which led Judicial Watch to file a FOIA lawsuit on October 26, 2012. In a press release dated April 18, 2014, Judicial Watch announced it had obtained documents related to the talking points memo used by Susan Rice and other Obama administration officials in the days after the attack.[24]

Hillary Clinton email lawsuits[edit]

Following Hillary Clinton's admission on March 3, 2015 that she had used a private email account during her time as Secretary of State, Judicial Watch proceeded to file ten FOIA lawsuits against the State Department seeking the records that she had turned over to them. Filed from March 4 to March 9, 2015, the lawsuits sought to obtain "any and all emails sent or received by Clinton during her time as Secretary of State", communications between government employees regarding her use of a non-government email, the number and names of employees at the State Department who used a non-government email account to conduct business, and records pertaining to the policies used to make sure such emails were searched for responsiveness to FOIA requests. Judicial Watch also requested that previously closed cases be re-opened on the grounds that in light of the private account, a reasonable search of those records hadn't been conducted.[25]

After this initial set of lawsuits the U.S. District Court agreed to re-open two Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuits that had been closed a year prior, a move considered unprecedented by the organization. They would also proceed to file further FOIA lawsuits seeking information on former Secretary Clinton's use of an iPhone and iPad for official business, the metadata of the emails turned over to the State Department, the nature of Bryan Pagliano's hiring to manage Clinton's private server, and whether Secretary Clinton had received mandatory training on handling classified information. Judicial Watch has currently filed twenty FOIA lawsuits involving the former Secretary's emails.[26][27]

On February 8, 2015 the FBI confirmed it was investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. The Bureau was forced to formally acknowledge the investigation due to an ongoing FOIA lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch. The FBI had previously declined to confirm or deny the existence of the Clinton probe.[28][29]

A federal judge ruled on February 23, 2016 that top aides to Hillary Clinton could be questioned under oath by Judicial Watch about her use of a private email server as secretary of state. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted Judicial Watch's motion for discovery into whether the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deliberately thwarted the Freedom of Information Act by using a private email server to obscure her communications from public records requests.[30]

In a separate case, on March 29, 2016 U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth granted Judicial Watch limited discovery, citing potential bad faith by the government in responding to requests for documents related to talking points provided to Susan Rice in response to the Benghazi attack.[31]

IRS targeting scandal[edit]

On May 10, 2013 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner admitted to inappropriately targeting Tea Party affiliated entities for extra scrutiny between 2010 and 2012,[32] in addition to other political groups.[33][34] Shortly thereafter, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request for related records.[35] On October 9, 2013 Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the IRS for failure to comply with four Judicial Watch FOIA requests dating back to May 2013.[36] By 2014 the IRS began turning over batches of documents to Judicial Watch investigators. In April 2014, Judicial Watch released a batch of internal IRS documents related to the targeting of conservative groups by the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service. Documents released in this batch include communications between Lois Lerner and DOJ's Election Crimes Division on the feasibility of bringing criminal changes against conservative non-profits.[37][38]


The bulk of Judicial Watch's cases involve transparency in government and government integrity, and the organization has taken positions on a wide range of issues.[39] Judicial Watch is conservative and avows a belief in limited government, individual liberty, the free market, traditional values, and a strong national defense. However, Judicial Watch recognizes that corruption is nonpartisan and nonideological.[40]

According to David Corn, Judicial Watch uses litigation as its primary tool.[41]

Larry Klayman lawsuits[edit]

In September 2003, Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman left the organization to run for the United States Senate from Florida.[42] In 2006 Klayman sued Judicial Watch and its president Tom Fitton. The lawsuit charged Fitton with misrepresentation of his academic and professional credentials upon hiring, and upon assuming his position engaged in false and misleading fund raising, misuse of donor money, failure to appoint an attorney as Chairman, failure to comply with a promised severance package to Klayman, and other actions which damaged Judicial Watch, the donors and Klayman.[43][44] The majority of Klayman's claims have been dismissed, including all claims against Fitton and the other officers of the organization.[45] The only claims by Klayman that remain pending before the Court consist of allegations that Judicial Watch breached a severance agreement with Klayman.[46]

Judicial Watch has asserted several claims against Klayman.[47] On October 14, 2009, the Court found that Klayman breached the severance agreement by failing to pay Judicial Watch, $69,358.48 in un-reimbursed personal expenses.[48] The remainder of Judicial Watch's claims against Klayman, which include additional claims of breaches of the severance agreement and trademark infringement, remain pending before the Court as of October 5, 2010.[49]

In 2012, a Judicial Watch employee falsely told Orly Taitz that Klayman had been convicted of not paying child support (Klayman had been indicted, but the charges were later dismissed). Taitz then published the employee's comment on her website. Klayman sued Judicial Watch for defamation, and in 2014, a federal jury awarded Klayman $156,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.[50]

In 2014, Klayman agreed to be publicly censured by the D.C. Bar. Klayman represented three individuals who had sued Judicial Watch, his former employer and client, but he failed to obtain Judicial Watch's consent to waive his conflict of interest. Klayman maintained that the bar "recognized there was no evidence of dishonesty or personal gain".[51] In June 2017, however, the discipline committee recommended that Klayman be suspended from practicing law for 90 days.[52][53]

In July 2017, Freedom Watch (Klayman's successor organization to Judicial Watch) sued Judicial Watch and the American Conservative Union (ACU), alleging they violated the Sherman Act by colluding to prevent Freedom Watch from participating at the ACU's Conservative Political Action Conference.[54]

Peter Paul lawsuit[edit]

In 2007 former donor Peter F. Paul sued Judicial Watch, accusing it of using his name to raise more than $15 million to support his lawsuit against Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton while doing little to advance his case.[55][56][57] All of Paul's claims have been dismissed.[58]


Judicial Watch has an annual budget of about $35 million.[2] Between 1997 and 2002 Judicial Watch received $7,069,500 in 19 grants from a handful of foundations. The bulk of this funding came from three foundations: the Sarah Scaife Foundation, a funder of politically conservative causes;[59] The Carthage Foundation, which merged into the Sarah Scaife Foundation in 2014;[60] and the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.,[citation needed] another conservative foundation which folded in 2005.[61] As of 2010, the Sarah Scaife Foundation was the group's largest contributor.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Mahler, Jonathan (October 12, 2016). "Group's Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "The real story of Judicial Watch". wnd.com. 
  4. ^ Fitton, Tom (2014). The Corruption Chronicles. Threshold Editions. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-4767-6705-5. 
  5. ^ "Recipients by amounts granted by all Scaife foundations". Media Transparency. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  6. ^ Segal, David (1998-05-30). "Pursuing Clinton Suits Him Just Fine". Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  7. ^ Bill Moyers Interview with Larry Klayman, Public Broadcasting Service, July 11, 2003.
  8. ^ Mark Tran (July 10, 2002). "Fraud lawsuit filed against US vice president". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ Thaddeus Herrick (July 11, 2002). "A Legal Watchdog Group Sues Cheney, Halliburton for Fraud". Wall Street Journal. 
  10. ^ Judicial Watch v. United States Department of Commerce, 470 F.3d 363, 1 (D.C. Circuit 2006).
  11. ^ Edward Walsh (March 24, 1998). "Sale Of Trade Mission Spots Alleged". The Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Judicial Watch (December 27, 2006). "Judicial Watch Victory: Substantially Prevails in Clinton Scandal FOIA Lawsuit" (Press release). Washington, DC: Judicial Watch. 
  13. ^ Fitton, Tom (2014). The Corruption Chronicles. Threshold Editions. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4767-6705-5. 
  14. ^ "FOIA & FOIA Lawsuit Text" (PDF). 
  15. ^ a b Andrew Zajac (August 30, 2013). "Secret Service Must Produce Some White House Records". Bloomberg. 
  16. ^ "Jack Abramoff Visitor Log" (PDF). 
  17. ^ Cooper, Helene (May 1, 2011). "Obama Announces Killing of Osama bin Laden". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 2, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2015. 
  18. ^ Cohen, Kelly (August 22, 2013). "Judicial Watch demands release of bin Laden death photographs". The Washington Times. Retrieved August 21, 2015. 
  19. ^ DiBlasio, Natalie (February 12, 2014). "Admiral: 'Destroy' photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse". USA Today. 
  20. ^ Judicial Watch (February 25, 2013). "JW Sues National Archives Challenging the Withholding of RFK Department of Justice Records" (Press release). Washington, DC: Judicial Watch. 
  21. ^ Bender, Bryan (July 12, 2013). "Judicial Watch sues National Archives over sealed Robert Kennedy records at JFK Library". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  22. ^ Anup Kaphle (June 17, 2014). "Timeline: How the Benghazi attacks played out". The Washington Post. 
  23. ^ Candy Crowley (2012-09-16). "State of the Union with Candy Crowley: Transcripts. "Interview with Susan Rice"". CNN. 
  24. ^ Judicial Watch (April 29, 2014). "Judicial Watch: Benghazi Documents Point to White House on Misleading Talking Points" (Press release). Washington, DC: Judicial Watch. 
  25. ^ "Judicial Watch Submits FOIAs for Hillary Clinton Emails, Lawsuits Could Follow In Twenty Days" (Press release). Judicial Watch. March 5, 2015. 
  26. ^ Pete Williams (October 6, 2015). "Court Hearings in Clinton Email Cases Set for February". NBC News. 
  27. ^ Julian Hattem (September 24, 2015). "Emails to hound Clinton for months". The Hill. 
  28. ^ Julian Hattem (February 8, 2016). "FBI confirms Clinton probe". The Hill. 
  29. ^ Pete Williams (February 8, 2016). "FBI formally confirms its investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server". MSNBC. 
  30. ^ Rosalind S. Helderman (February 23, 2016). "Aides' email-server testimony could throw Clinton campaign a curveball". The Washington Post. 
  31. ^ Josh Gerstein (March 29, 2016). "Second judge grants discovery in Clinton email lawsuit". Politico. 
  32. ^ Zachary A. Goldfarb (May 10, 2013). "IRS admits targeting conservatives for tax scrutiny in 2012 election". The Washington Post. 
  33. ^ Rubin, Richard; Bykowicz, Julie (June 25, 2013). "IRS Look at Progressive Groups Complicates Controversy". Bloomberg. 
  34. ^ Chittum, Ryan (June 25, 2013). "The IRS scandal unwinds". Columbia Journalism Review. 
  35. ^ Cheryl K. Chumley (October 15, 2013). "Judicial Watch sues IRS for stonewalling on tea party FOIA". The Washington Times. 
  36. ^ Judicial Watch (October 15, 2013). "Judicial Watch sues IRS for stonewalling on tea party FOIA" (Press release). Washington, DC: Judicial Watch. 
  37. ^ Katie Pavlich (April 16, 2014). "BREAKING: New Emails Show Lois Lerner Was in Contact With DOJ About Prosecuting Tax Exempt Groups". Townhall. 
  38. ^ Robert W. Wood (December 10, 2014). "Obama Justice Department Was Involved In IRS Targeting, Lerner Emails Reveal". Forbes. 
  39. ^ Litigation page, Judicial Watch website.
  40. ^ Fitton, Tom (2014). The Corruption Chronicles. Threshold Editions. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4767-6705-5. 
  41. ^ Corn, David (2004-03-29). "Klayman Watch". The Nation. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  42. ^ Pensacola News Journal: "Senate candidate Klayman to visit area". February 23, 2004.
  43. ^ Timothy Noah, Judicial Watch v. Judicial Watch, Slate, April 28, 2006.
  44. ^ United States District Court for the District of Columbia Civil Action No. 06-670 (Ckk); Larry Klayman, Plaintiff, V. Judicial Watch, Inc., et Al., Defendants; Memorandum Opinion, (December 3, 2007); United States District Court for the District of Columbia Civil Action No. 06-670 (Ckk); Larry Klayman, Plaintiff, V. Judicial Watch, Inc., et Al., Defendants; Memorandum Opinion, (June 25, 2009)
  45. ^ Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 628 F. Supp.2d 112, 118 (D.D.C. 2009).
  46. ^ Id.
  47. ^ Klayman, 628 F. Supp. 2d at 118.
  48. ^ Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 661 F. Supp.2d 2, 4 (D.D.C. 2009).
  49. ^ Klayman, 628 F. Supp.2d at 118.
  50. ^ Montgomery, David (June 10, 2014). "Larry Klayman wins one against Judicial Watch". Washington Post. 
  51. ^ Tillman, Zoe (June 24, 2014). "D.C. Attorney Larry Klayman Agrees to Censure in Ethics Case". National Law Journal. 
  52. ^ Strickler, Andrew (June 20, 2017). "Ex-Judicial Watch Atty Hit With Sanction Recommendation". Law360. 
  53. ^ In re Klayman (D.C. Court of Appeals June 19, 2017). Text
  54. ^ Torres, Louie (August 1, 2017). "Freedom Watch Inc. alleges Judicial Watch, American Conservation Union is restraining trade". Legal NewsLine. 
  55. ^ Kristen Lombardi, Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Rides Again; Hillary haters go wild over campaign finance case, Village Voice, May 17th 2005.
  56. ^ Ian Urbina (March 15, 2005). "Battling the Clintons, and Each Other". New York Times. 
  57. ^ "Former Donor To Clinton Sues Judicial Watch", Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, February 8, 2007, p.5
  58. ^ Paul v. Judicial Watch, Inc., Civil Action No. 07-00279 (RCL) (D.D.C. Feb. 2, 2009) (memorandum and order granting dismissal with prejudice).
  59. ^ Lord, Rich (October 25, 2014). "Scaife-related foundations poised to take bigger stage". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  60. ^ "The Carthage Foundation". Scaife Foundations. 
  61. ^ John M. Miller (April 6, 2005). "Foundation's End The last days of John M. Olin's conservative fortune". National Review. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  62. ^ Stephen Lemons. "Richard Mellon Scaife's Cash Pays For Judicial Watch's Ideologically Motivated Lawsuits". Phoenix New Times. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Fitton, Tom The Corruption Chronicles: Obama's Big Secrecy, Big Corruption, and Big Government (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012). ISBN 978-1-4516-7787-4
  • Fitton, Tom Clean House: Exposing Our Government's Secrets and Lies (New York: Threshold Editions, 2016). ISBN 978-1-5011-3704-4

External links[edit]

Media related to Judicial Watch at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 38°53′01″N 77°00′56″W / 38.8836°N 77.0155°W / 38.8836; -77.0155