(The Daily Signal)—After President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to work with private organizations to mobilize voters, senior White House officials asked agencies for “bold ideas” and explained plans to coordinate with “stakeholders.”

One message from the White House, obtained by The Daily Signal, said: “We look forward to working with you to”—but the rest of the content is blacked out by a redaction.

The specifics of those “bold ideas” and “stakeholders” isn’t knowable right now because “upon the advice of the White House Counsel’s Office, the information is being withheld under the presidential communications privilege,” according to a cover letter to The Daily Signal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The letter accompanied 99 pages that The Daily Signal obtained from USDA through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Since Biden signed his executive order on elections in March 2021, members of Congress, the press, and watchdog groups have struggled to get basic information on how the administration is implementing the order. Some details have trickled out through FOIA law, which requires that basic information from the government be available to the public.

Earlier this month, two House committees intensified their investigations of Biden’s order on turning out voters.

Although records obtained previously by The Daily Signal under FOIA requests contained redactions and cited exemptions, the responses didn’t refer to “presidential communication privilege.”

“The presidential communications privilege protects communications among the president and his advisors,” the cover letter to the released but redacted documents says.

“The records being withheld here consist of email communications concerning President Biden’s Executive Order 14019 and attached records that were solicited and received by the president or his immediate White House advisers who have broad and significant responsibility for investigating and formulating the advice to be given to the president,” says the letter signed by Alexis R. Graves, director of the USDA’s Office of Information Affairs.

Other exemptions to disclosure cited in Graves’ cover letter include the deliberative process privilege and attorney-client privilege.

Critics of Biden’s executive order, some of whom refer to it as “Bidenbucks,” argue that its implementation could cause bureaucrats to violate the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits political activity using resources of the federal government. Critics also say the order may violate the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from spending taxpayers’ money for reasons not approved by Congress.

Separately, the Justice Department has invoked presidential privilege to shield documents about Biden’s order in a public records lawsuit brought by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a watchdog group.

“In recent years, the presidential communications privilege has become an increasingly common excuse used by federal agencies to sidestep their disclosure obligations under federal law,” Stewart Whitson, senior director of federal affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability, told The Daily Signal.

“During the current administration, federal agencies have shown an increasing willingness to stretch the presidential communications privilege well beyond what is allowed under current law—documents or other materials that reflect presidential decision making and deliberations that the president believes should remain confidential—to any and all documents received by White House advisers and their staff,” Whitson said.

“If allowed to persist, federal agencies and the politically appointed bureaucrats leading these agencies will gradually render the FOIA law meaningless. Government transparency and our very democracy are under threat,” he said.

Stephonn O. Alcorn, then the associate director of racial justice and equity at the White House, sent an April 1, 2021, email to all federal agencies that is heavily redacted in the released version.

Alcorn’s email was about an interagency meeting to be convened eight days later, on April 9, by the White House Counsel’s Office and the Domestic Policy Counsel. The agenda is completely redacted.

Alcorn notified agencies that taking the White House lead on Biden’s election executive order would be Justin Vail, special assistant to the president for democracy and civic participation with the Domestic Policy Council, and Larry Schwartztol, an associate White House counsel.

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