Accountability Starts Now

Statement from Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight:

“Donald Trump’s lifelong talent for outrunning liability just came to an end. After two years of sitting on the sidelines, Congress is going to begin conducting real oversight for the first time, and if the Trump administration tries to obstruct or delay, American Oversight will be going to court to force transparency. The Trump administration’s culture of impunity took a major blow on Tuesday, and the American people are finally going to get the truth about the misconduct and corruption, from Ryan Zinke and Betsy DeVos all the way up to the White House.”

With control of the House of Representatives changing hands, the checks and balances we all learned about in school, the bedrock of our constitutional system, are back.

For the past two years, Congress has utterly abdicated its duty to conduct oversight of the administration. It has been up to outside watchdogs like American Oversight and the independent press to expose misconduct and ensure the public understands what this administration has been doing:

  • We forced the administration to shut down its bogus voter fraud commission when faced with the prospect of transparency;
  • We exposed how Scott Pruitt used the EPA for his personal benefit and outsourced policy to polluters and chemical companies;
  • We forced the Department of Justice (DOJ) to admit that the President lied about being wiretapped at Trump Tower; and
  • We exposed how Ben Carson’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been a bastion of political and personal influence.

Starting in January, key committees in the House of Representatives will be holding hearings and demanding documents from the administration on dozens of issues.

But even congressional subpoenas aren’t all-powerful – and it’s safe to expect that the Trump administration will fight tooth and nail to prevent its full record from becoming public. If the administration refuses to comply with subpoenas or resists producing documents, Congress has limited tools at its disposal to enforce its requests.

That’s where our Parallel Investigations Initiative comes in. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows us – as members of the public – to go to court to compel the release of documents. We’ve already submitted well over a hundred FOIA requests on issues that Congress will soon be investigating, and in the last two weeks, we’ve begun filing lawsuits to force the Trump administration to disclose records about:

  • President Trump’s interference in the redevelopment of the FBI headquarters, which sits just blocks from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
  • The involvement of members of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in setting policy at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • The administration’s disastrous handling of the hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico in 2017.

Starting today, we will be filing three more lawsuits this week demanding answers on other topics likely to face scrutiny from the new Congress:

  • Political loyalty investigations and attempts to “purge” State Department career employees deemed to be insufficiently supportive of President Trump.
  • The Department of Education’s actions to protect the student lending industry at the expense of Americans with student loan debt.
  • The potential use of American embassies overseas to promote Trump or Kushner family business interests in countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil.  

This is just the beginning. Our team has been planning ahead for more than six months, filing FOIA requests on a broad range of issues from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s misuse of official resources to the Trump administration’s family separation policy.  Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue going to court to force the administration to release documents, paving the way for real accountability on those issues and more.

You can follow all our investigations here – and track our FOIA request and the documents we’ve uncovered here.