March 13, 2018 02:16:50by

Trump administration sets new record for censoring and withholding US government files

Trump administration sets new record for censoring and withholding US government files

Donald Trump’s administration has set a new record for censoring, withholding or saying it could not find records requested by citizens, journalists and researchers.

An Associated Press (AP) analysis found those who asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act received censored files or nothing in 78 per cent of 823,222 requests – a record over the past decade. 

The federal government also spent $40.6m (£29.2m) in legal fees last year to defend its decision to withhold federal files.

The calculations covered eight months under Mr Trump, giving the first hints of how his administration complies with FOIA requests.

His administration said it found nothing 180,924 times when responding to requests, an increase of 18 per cent over the previous year.

The number of times it said it would be illegal under US laws to release the requested information nearly doubled to 63,749.

Many such requests probably involved files related to the US investigation into how Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election or about Mr Trump’s personal or business tax returns, Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who frequently sues the US government for records, told the AP.

When it did turn over everything requested, the federal government censored documents in nearly two-thirds of cases. 

In cases where no records were provided, it said it could find no information related to the request a little over half of the time.

However, the analysis said it was impossible, based on the government’s own accounting, to determine whether records had been requested which did not actually exist or whether federal employees did not search hard enough before giving up. 

The federal government turned over everything requested in around one in every five FOIA requests. 

The Trump administration said it received a record number of information requests last year. It said it was directing federal agencies to improve the number of requests they process.

Mr Trump has abandoned some of the common conventions of presidential transparency, for example by declining to release his personal tax returns, or even disclose logs of official visitors to the White House. 

His administration released the figures ahead of Sunshine Week, when journalists and news organisations promote government transparency and the public’s right to access information. 

Under the Freedom of Information Act, both citizens and foreigners can compel the US government to turn over copies of federal records for little or no cost. 

Those seeking information are supposed to have their requests fulfilled unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy, or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. 

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