The State Department has taken more than two years to turn over documents WND sought through a Freedom of Information Act request regarding mysterious transactions at an expensive European luxury hotel funded by U.S. taxpayers.
Despite President Obama’s continued proclamations and executive orders heralding a new era of open government, the State Department only partly satisfied this FOIA request. WND received mostly redacted, unreadable and even German-language documents.
What State did disclose – whether inadvertently or intentionally – was a partial list of consular officials and department staff, mostly from U.S. embassies in Africa, who enjoyed lavish champagne breakfasts and other comforts at the super-luxurious Hotel Hessischer Hof in Frankfurt, Germany.
State Department officials blacked out most, but not all, of the names of attendees as well as their check-in and check-out dates at the Foreign Service Institute “Small-Post Leadership Conference Workshop.”
State justified the redaction of officials’ names by citing the FOIA (b)(6) exemption that release “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
It remains unclear, however, why State disclosed some names while blacking out others.
State also argued for the redaction of participants’ check-in/check-out dates, citing the FOIA (b)(4) exemption from releasing “privileged/confidential trade secrets, commercial or financial information from a person.”
But out of 32 rooms reserved for conferees, the alphabetically ordered, unclassified reservation-confirmation documents neglected to black out officials with last names beginning with the letters L-Z.
Red flag raised
WND first took notice of State’s arrangement with the five-star Hotel Hessischer Hof during a previous analysis of executive branch travel, particularly the Obama family’s multi-million-dollar global trips, both business and personal.
The State Department, which is responsible for arranging international hotel and transportation logistics for presidential, vice-presidential and other high-level government official trips, initially published few details about the German hotel contract.
Indeed, the award notice uploaded to the FedBizOpps vendor database on Nov. 17, 2011, was unaccompanied by supporting documents and merely listed the contract’s estimated cost – $52,000 – along with the hotel location.
The mysteriousness of the procurement increased upon discovery that there had been no corresponding media or governmental reports of official state visits to Frankfurt.
The closest thing to such a visit was the arrival in Frankfurt – months prior to publication of the contract notice – of Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to cheer for Team USA during the Women’s World Cup.
In the absence of verifiable information, WND on April 4, 2012, therefore, formally asked the U.S. government to reveal details of who stayed – and why they stayed – at Hotel Hessischer Hof, which charges roughly $400 a night for basic rooms and up to $4,600 nightly for palatial suites.
Delayed responses, possibly in violation of federal law, began from the outset of the inquiry.
Written by STEVE PEACOCK
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