Continued from page 1

Cause of Action sent 22 FOIA requests in 2013 and 2014 to various federal agencies concerning their reviews of records by the Office of White House Counsel and released a report in April about “White House equities.”

Because the White House is exempt from FOIA, White House review of such requests occurs only in rare circumstances in which a document originated in the White House.

One FOIA officer who worked in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations claimed to be “personally aware of multiple cases” in which records were sent to the White House “simply because they dealt with a politically hot topic.”

“The records did not originate from or even mention the White House,” the officer said in an interview.

Another FOIA officer referred to the policy as “Nixonian,” saying the Obama White House “not only wants to know what is sent out from the government, but also who’s doing the asking.”

‘Tool of secrecy’

David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said the lawsuit is important but does not come as a surprise.

“It’s one of many lawsuits the White House has had to face and continues to face over the years, and rightfully so,” Mr. Cuillier said. “It should face this lawsuit because our government is out of control when it comes to excessive secrecy. They’re using the FOIA as a tool of secrecy, not of openness.”

On July 8, the journalists group filed a letter urging President Obama to halt excessive management over information control. The letter targets Mr. Obama’s media policies.

“We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the letter said.

Ginger McCall, director for the Electronic Privacy Information Center Open Government Project, said public pressure could be applied usefully to the Justice Department, which is reviewing agency FOIA policy inconsistencies.

The Justice Department “has been tasked with crafting a uniform FOIA rule for all federal agencies,” she said. “Therefore, they could easily add language to their new, proposed uniform standards that prohibit the White House from interfering this way.”

Mr. Epstein said he believes the White House equities policy is inconsistent with Mr. Obama’s promises of transparency.

“The president has interjected himself into the FOIA process, and record releases are being delayed as a result of that,” he said. “It violates FOIA because these documents should have been forthcoming. It violates the spirit of FOIA because transparency should not be delayed because of something the president or his White House staff does.”