News Roundup: Happy Birthday, FOIA

Independence Day is also the anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed FOIA into law on July 4, 1966. In his signing statement, Johnson praised the importance of openness for democracy and said the legislation affirmed American principles. But he also wrote that he felt some documents shouldn’t be available to the public.

  • White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers later said that “LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing.” Nevertheless, FOIA has become an important part of Johnson’s legacy.
  • Records show Johnson personally removed strong language supporting open government from the press statement. 

After Watergate, President Gerald Ford wanted to approve amendments to the Privacy Act of 1974 to strengthen FOIA.

  • Donald Rumsfeld, then-White House chief of staff, and his deputy Dick Cheney were worried it could allow leaks.
  • Antonin Scalia, then assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, said the bill was unconstitutional and even asked the CIA to lobby a White House staffer against it.
  • Ford vetoed it, but Congress overrode his veto, creating the core of FOIA that’s still in place today. 

FOIA has been amended many times over the decades, including the most recent update: the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. It strengthened the FOIA ombudsman, put a time limit on the use of the deliberative process exemption, mandated more proactive openness, and wrote into law a specific presumption of openness. But there can be issues with enforcing the reforms. 

  • FOIA ombuds offices have little actual authority to ensure agencies adhere to FOIA requirements. Often, this results in arduous delays. 
  • FOIA also requires “prompt” production of records, but many agencies continue to under-resource their FOIA operations and as a result develop significant backlogs. The lack of timely responses undermines FOIA’s ability to inform citizens about what the government is up to when that information is still pertinent.

Despite these limits, Independence Day provides an important opportunity to celebrate the principle that the public has a right to know what our government is doing.

On the Records

Trump’s Call to Arizona Governor

In late 2020, former President Trump tried to convince then-Gov. Doug Ducey to overturn Arizona’s presidential election results, the Washington Post reported this week. It’s unsurprising given what we have previously uncovered about Trump’s attempts to sway the election results in Georgia and Arizona.

  • On Dec. 23, 2020, Trump called the lead investigator heading up Georgia’s review of the November election and pressured the investigator to find “the right answer.” We obtained an audio recording of the call. 
  • Records we uncovered showed that Arizona Senate President Karen Fann boasted in a December 2020 email that she had received a “personal call from President Trump thanking us for pushing to prove any fraud.” 
  • Earlier this year, the watchdog Documented found that Donald Trump donated $1 million to the discredited Arizona “audit,” based on financial filings and emails and texts we obtained through public records requests. The records we obtained show that in June 2021, Phil Waldron — who was active in Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss — texted Doug Logan, the CEO of lead “audit” contractor Cyber Ninjas: “Kurt is going to talk to 45 today about $$.”
  • Of course, Trump wasn’t acting alone in his post-election efforts to undermine democracy. Read more about our investigation into the nationwide network of election deniers working to erode trust in our elections.

Other Stories We’re Following

Election Denial and Voting Rights
  • The self-inflicted voting machine misinformation crisis looming over 2024 (Politico)
  • Federal judge halts new Florida law he calls ‘latest assault’ on voting (Politico)
  • Texas fixes some obstacles to mail voting that dogged voters after 2021 restrictions (Votebeat)
  • Secretary of State Ardoin wants veto override session to enact supplemental voter canvass (Louisiana Illuminator)
In the States
  • Ron DeSantis bragged about sending help to Iowa — 10 hours after being told it wasn’t needed (NBC News)
  • Florida hospitals will now ask about your immigration status. What to know, how to answer (Miami Herald)
  • Mississippi says poor defendants must always have a lawyer. Few courts are ready to deliver. (ProPublica)
  • Connecticut troopers falsified data on traffic stops reported to racial profiling board, audit says (ABC News)
National News
  • Federal judge limits Biden officials’ contacts with social media sites (New York Times)
  • At least 17 mass shootings mark Fourth of July holiday weekend, data shows (NBC News)
LGBTQ Rights
  • Anti-LGBTQ+ laws are being blocked in federal courts across the country (The 19th)
  • Christian legal nonprofit funds U.S. anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion organizations (Guardian)
  • Transgender care bans leave families and doctors scrambling (New York Times)
  • Youngkin officials quietly pull LGBTQ+ youth resources offline (Washington Post)
  • Louisiana Senate passes bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender youths (Associated Press)
Abortion and Reproductive Rights
  • Sacramento Sheriff is sharing license plate reader data with anti-abortion states, records show (Sacramento Bee)
  • As U.S. maternal mortality rates surge, Idaho abandons panel investigating pregnancy-related deaths (Wisconsin Examiner)  
  • Abortion rights campaign turns in 710,000 signatures for constitutional amendment proposal (
  • Iowa’s Republican governor calls a special legislative session to revive abortion restrictions (Associated Press)
  • Indiana abortions drop sharply ahead of state ban possibly taking effect, state reports show (Associated Press)
  • North Carolina 12-week abortion ban goes into effect, down from 20-week limit (ABC News)
Government Transparency and Public Records Law
  • Memo shows Missouri AG helped craft governor’s plan to weaken open records laws (Missouri Independent)
  • Connecticut troopers falsified data on traffic stops reported to racial profiling board, audit says (ABC News)
  • DeSantis is squeezing the sunshine out of Florida’s public records law, critics say (NBC News)
Trump Accountability and Jan. 6 Investigations
  • In Trump case, Justice Dept. unseals previously blacked-out portions from search warrant application (Associated Press)
  • Trump aide Walt Nauta pleads not guilty in classified documents case (Washington Post)
  • Special counsel subpoenas Arizona secretary of state office in Jan. 6 probe (Axios)
  • Man wanted on Jan. 6 charges arrested with weapons near Barack Obama’s Washington home (Associated Press)
  • Special counsel prosecutors question witnesses about chaotic Oval Office meeting after Trump lost the 2020 election (CNN)