American Oversight Sues State Department for Trump Organization, Kushner Companies Records

Watchdog’s Suit Seeks Documents Expected to be Targets of Congressional Investigations

American Oversight today filed a lawsuit against the Department of State to determine whether President Trump’s business interests have influenced agency policy. The president and his family, who have refused to divest from their businesses, have financial interests in more than 20 countries.

“The president has cashed in on his office since day one, setting a tone of corruption from the top down,” said Melanie Sloan, Senior Advisor at American Oversight. “As President Trump and his family have profited from their public positions, taxpayers have footed the bill. The public should know just how much the president’s kleptocratic tendencies have influenced government policy and spending.”

The president’s business interests have influenced State Department activities on at least one occasion. In April 2017, the State Department promoted Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Florida, as the “winter White House.” The State Department removed the blog post, which was featured on State’s website as well as the websites of U.S. embassies in the United Kingdom and Albania, after public and congressional outcry.

Members of the president’s family have also appeared to capitalize on their personal connections to the White House. In February 2018, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., made an “unofficial” visit to India to meet with investors and business leaders. However, Trump Jr. also planned to give a speech on foreign policy at a business summit, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi planned to attend. Trump Jr. cancelled the speech after public criticism, but his trip to India helped snag $15 million in sales for the Trump Organization in one day.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, has deep financial ties to Israel—even as he has cast himself as a central diplomatic figure in the U.S.’s relationship with the Middle East. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior advisor, continues to profit from her brand, which has won dozens of patent awards from China during Trump’s presidency.

American Oversight’s lawsuit is part of its Parallel Investigations Initiative, mirroring document requests that will likely be made by Congress as it investigates the administration. In May 2018, Senator Bob Menendez pressed the Commerce Department to enforce sanctions against Chinese telecommunications corporation ZTE after the president said he would help save the company, which is known for doing business with Iran and North Korea. President Trump’s announcement came soon after China awarded Ivanka Trump’s brand numerous trademarks. Menendez also requested information from the Trump Organization about its financing from the Chinese government.

“The Trump administration is finally going to face reckoning over its culture of corruption,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Along with a Congress that will take oversight seriously, American Oversight is ready to step in and help force accountability. If administration officials try to skirt congressional investigations, we will go to court to demand the release of records.”

In addition to today’s suit, American Oversight has filed eight other lawsuits that mirror probable congressional investigations. The watchdog yesterday sued the State Department to uncover evidence of reported political retaliation. American Oversight has also filed suits to shed light on the role that President Trump and the Trump Organization played in reversing a long-time plan to relocate the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters outside of Washington, DC; to investigate the possibility that three members of the president’s Mar-a-Lago club have influenced policy at Veterans Affairs’ and the Department of Defense; and to uncover records detailing the administration’s failed response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico. American Oversight will file one more lawsuit this week in preparation for expected congressional investigations.

American Oversight’s suit comes after State failed to respond to seven Freedom of Information Act requests about the president’s business interests, including:

  • Guidance to U.S. embassies including instructions concerning how embassies should respond to inquiries about the Trump Organization or Kushner Companies LLC;
  • S. embassy communications about the Trump Organization or Kushner Companies LLC;
  • Any communications between certain State and U.S. embassy officials and Trump Organization or Kushner Companies LLC employees;
  • Communications between Donald Trump Jr. and certain State officials, as well as communications regarding Trump Jr.’s February 2018 trip to India;
  • Communications between State and the White House about Trump properties in Panama;
  • Communications between State officials and Trump Organization representatives about Trump properties in Panama; and
  • State Department cables about Trump properties in Panama.

See the complaint below:

Complaint AO v. State - 18-2579