Judicial Watch accused the Navy of "stonewalling" while backing a TV reporter’s bid to uncover departmental documents pertaining to last year’s Navy Yard mass shooting in Washington, D.C.
The watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last month against the U.S. Department of the Navy seeking information about procedures for answering FOIA requests, according to a statement
The suit follows the Navy’s failure to reply to a Judicial Watch application in January to the department’s FOIA public liaison, Robin Patterson, seeking all records related to procedures for responding to FOIA requests.
Judicial Watch said it made its request after Patterson sent a memo by mistake to WRC-TV reporter Scott MacFarlane in Washington, detailing a strategy for stonewalling his FOIA request for information about the Navy Yard shooting.
In September 2013
, lone gunman Aaron Alexis fatally shot 12 people and injured three others at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command.
In the Navy memo, Patterson refers to MacFarlane’s request as a "fishing expedition," and suggests several ways that FOIA staff can block his request, including his search for photos of the shooting.
Patterson also urged staff in his memo to convince MacFarlane that his search would prove "costly," adding, "Just because they are media doesn't mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities."
She also informed her colleagues that she was planning a response that could ultimately doom MacFarlane's request for Navy officials' emails involving the Navy Yard massacre. "This one is specific enough that we may be able to deny," Patterson wrote.
"It is a travesty for Judicial Watch to have to file a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of the Navy to get information about how it responds to FOIA requests," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in the statement. "The Navy is now stonewalling us about its own stonewall – this is theater of the absurd."
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