USA Fourth Circuit court hears Trump grants privacy case

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Judges argue it is up to agencies to decide what to release

A federal appeals court has heard arguments in a case involving the president’s demand that government agencies hand over information on federal grants.

Three judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard the case in Maryland and North Carolina.

President Donald Trump has asked several agencies to withhold information requested under freedom of information law.

The government lawyers argued that judges must defer to agencies on what to release.

However, the judges argued that, by passing laws, the courts are supposed to rein in a president when there is an apparent abuse of power.

James T Jaffe, a reporter for the Investigative News Network, who is part of the plaintiff’s legal team, argued that the freedom of information act does not allow the government to tell him “you don’t have to tell us”.

When the president threatens to withhold something the law says it must be released – it’s just not allowed.

It cannot make the determination on what information the courts should or should not release, while “the executive branch is allowed to make that determination”.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption On Thursday, the government attorney argued that the Department of Justice would not release certain information

The group of plaintiffs is appealing a ruling by a US District Court judge in April which denied the request for the government to turn over information on grants made by the Justice Department.

The Department of Justice appealed the decision, arguing that the group had not shown that the law had been violated.

“It does not protect people in a situation where the president unilaterally determined that the agency is violating the [freedom of information] act. Nobody’s going to put the brakes on him here”, said US Government Attorney Daniel Hoesl.

“Judge Olson [Judge James Kehoe] said the executive branch, not the courts, can make that determination – that’s why we appealed,” said Mr T Jaffe.

The last time President Trump took similar action – refusing to release information on his proposed border wall – the White House was blocked by courts.

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