The Washington Post

‘Transparency’ forecast: Cloudy

On freedom of information, Attorney General Eric Holder once talked of a “presumption of disclosure.” It seems so long ago. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The day after he was inaugurated in 2009, President Obama issued a “Transparency and Open Government” memo to all agencies and promised an “unprecedented level of openness in government.”

Two months later, Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the enforcement agency for Freedom of Information Act matters, issued a memo saying that FOIA requests should be handled “with a presumption of disclosure.”

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

It’s not clear — could be Obama was just kidding, or maybe Holder really meant to say “presumption of non-disclosure” — but it would seem government secrecy is alive and well right here in River City.

The Justice Department, Loop Fans may recall, has been the proud recipient — two years straight! — of the Rosemary Award, given by the National Security Archive for “the worst open-government performance” of any federal agency.

Last week, in the midst of the Great Sequester, the Justice Department said Holder was leaving Saturday for New Zealand to participate in the fifth annual “Quintet Meeting of Attorneys General” of the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Britain. (The meeting, we’re told, is quite legit, and the venue rotates.)

Other meetings were mentioned, plus “remarks” at the University of Auckland Law School that were “closed to the press.” The announcement said Holder was going to stop off on the return trip to meet with the head of the U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom).

Last summer, as we have written, Holder visited, among other places, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, Denmark, Germany, Guam, Malaysia, and Singapore.

So, in this time of sequester, when we heard he was taking “a bunch of staff” to New Zealand, we wondered who was going, whether any spouses were included, and whether they were flying commercial or on a government plane. (Really just the usual info.)

The New Zealand government Web site indicates the Quintet event is a one-day meeting on Wednesday, leaving plenty of time for our participants to recover from jet lag, maybe visit the Hobbit Shire, only a couple of hours by bus from Auckland.

On Monday and Tuesday, we were able to determine that Holder was on one of those comfy government jets and that no spouses were along.

But the Justice Department’s acting head of public affairs, Nanda Chitre, who is on the trip, rebuffed e-mails asking which other Justice staff members were accompanying Holder. “Going to decline on providing a list,” she e-mailed twice on Tuesday, and she didn’t respond to a request to give a reason for declining.

She did confirm that the Pacom meeting was, naturally, at its headquarters in beautiful Hawaii — the initial release didn’t note that — but she would not say whether the Holder team was staying overnight.

FOIA request to follow.

A hiker’s guide to D.C.

A very warm Loop welcome to Mark Sanford, the scandal-scarred former South Carolina governor, who will be returning to our fair city as a bona fide member of Congress.

Sanford, who won a special election Tuesday, served in the House from 1995 to 2001. But things have changed since then — for both Sanford and Washington — so we offer him this handy guide to the city.

●Argentine food. Sanford famously jaunted off to Argentina to consort with his mistress (now fiancee) while he was governor, and so we can assume he and his bride-to-be might like to sample the cuisine of her homeland. In D.C. proper, there are few true Argentinian joints, though we have some fine pan-Latin American restaurants, including Ceiba (try the ceviche, Congressman!). And for the real deal, he might head out to the Maryland ’burbs to try El Patio, which is said to serve some of the most authentic grilled steaks around.

●Sports bars. Sanford got into a spot of trouble during his congressional campaign when it came out that his ex-wife had slapped him with a trespassing charge. The irrepressible Sanford claimed that he was only visiting her home to see his son and watch the Super Bowl with him.

But he need not resort to lawbreaking to catch the big game in Washington. There are many local sports bars with big screens and good brews, including the Pour House, a short walk from the House office buildings.

●Pelosi, in the flesh! One of the weirder moments of Sanford’s campaign was when he debated a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But now that he’ll be her colleague, perhaps he can visit her office in the Capitol (second floor, not far from the House floor) and actually converse with her in person.

●Hiking trails. Perhaps Sanford’s most memorable stumble was when he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was, in fact, visiting his Argentine mistress. Since Sanford is a lover of the outdoors, he’s in luck. Our area is rife with lovely hiking trails. Rock Creek Park is a great place to start.

And, hey, we’re not far from . . . the Appalachian Trail.

Who can it be now?

The Loop’s quote of the week expresses a sentiment familiar to many a government official: “A phone call from that senior a person is, generally speaking, not considered to be good news.” — Gregory Hicks, former deputy ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, describing a phone call he got from Cheryl Mills, chief of staff (and unofficial consigliere) to then-SecState Hillary Clinton.

Hicks, who testified Wednesday before Congress, said Mills was upset with him for meeting with a congressional Republican investigating the deadly embassy attacks.

That’s the beauty of caller ID.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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