Judge rules that Trump can keep reasoning for shrinking national monuments secret

Judge rules that Trump can keep reasoning for shrinking national monuments secret
© Josh Ewing

A federal court says President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE doesn't have to explain the reasoning behind his decision to shrink two national monuments earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge David Nye ruled Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not have to provide the legal documents supporting its decision, saying that the records qualified as protected presidential communication.

"DOJ has persuasively explained what the withheld records are. Even without the specific recipients or name of the monument at issue, the Court can determine that all the records contain legal advice to the President and his advisors and should remain protected," the court ruled.

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The decision rules against Advocates for the West, an environmental law firm that brought the case against the Trump administration. The group, under the Freedom of Information Act in February 2017, sought 12 legal documents prepared by the DOJ's legal counsel. After not being provided those documents, the group sued, arguing that the withholding was unlawful.

The DOJ said the documents were privileged largely because they concerned attorney-client communications and recommendations. 

“This decision shows how difficult it is to force sunlight on a government that flourishes in secrecy,” Advocates for the West attorney Todd Tucci told The Associated Press.

The suit comes after Trump made a decision early this year to scale back the size of two monuments in Utah known as Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. The decision was met with strong criticism by environmental and land conservation groups but hailed by the fossil fuel industry, which hopes fewer land regulations mean a high chance of renewed fuel exploration.

The Trump administration has indicated that more monument rollbacks may occur in the future.