In the News

Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and litigation, we’ve been able to extract documents showing evidence of misconduct – and we’ve made those records available to journalists and the public. Here are some of the recent examples of our work in the news.

Want to Get Hired by the CFPB? Say You Know How to Destroy It.
Hannah Levintova — June 25, 2019, Mother Jones

During his yearlong tenure atop the bureau, Mulvaney, who was simultaneously serving as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, made good on his plan. He brought in dozens of political hires and installed them in positions where they would keep close tabs on or exercise control over the bureaucratic staffers whose neutrality he had derided. Critics have described Mulvaney’s time at the CFPB, which ended in December 2018 with the appointment of one of his OMB employees, Kathy Kraninger, as director, as having brought a “dangerous” dismantling of the bureau’s power and mission.

Now, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that highlighting a willingness and ability to kneecap the CFPB may have helped a number of the appointees get their jobs. Resumes obtained by American Oversight and provided to Mother Jones reveal that appointees to senior-level jobs regularly advertised their experience working to weaken the bureau’s authority while seeking positions where they could determine its future.

Somehow, Rick Perry (?!) Is Trump’s Most Stable Cabinet Member
Sam Broday and Sam Stein — June 25, 2019, The Daily Beast

Watchdogs caution that absence of scandal does not mean it doesn’t exist. The ethics and advocacy group American Oversight obtained documents from the government suggesting that Perry played a role in the Trump administration’s push to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, a move that raised significant ethical questions. As the Daily Beast reported in March, the DOE under Perry authorized U.S. companies to work with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy even as the Saudi government faced intense scrutiny over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

“It is far too early to give him a clean bill of ethical health,” said Austin Evers, founder of American Oversight. “Perry may not have engaged in cartoonish behavior like Scott Pruitt, but that doesn’t make his tenure scandal-free by any stretch.”

First on CNN: Controversial political appointee expected to be named Customs and Border Protection press secretary
Geneva Sands — June 19, 2019, CNN

Earlier this year, American Oversight also requested records from the department for Gorka “to shed light on DHS counterterrorism efforts.”

“Katharine Gorka, an advisor in DHS’s policy office has a long history of working with far-right national security groups, and her writings have been described as anti-Muslim in sentiment,” wrote Executive Director Austin Evers in a letter to DHS in January.

Chao created special path for McConnell’s favored projects
Tucker Doherty and Tanya Syner — June 10, 2019, Politico 

The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.

Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.

Complaints grow that Trump staffers are campaigning for their boss
Anita Kumar — May 15, 2019, Politico

American Oversight, which formed to hold the Trump administration accountable, filed a complaint against former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, which the group said received political contributions while a federal employee. OSC opened an investigation but closed it when he left government despite American Oversight’s objection, according to letters sent to the group. On Wednesday, after POLITICO published this story, OSC sent American Oversight a letter saying it had considered the group’s view on why the case should be reopened but declined to do so. “OSC reserves the right to reopen this matter should Mr. Whitaker obtain employment in a Hatch Act-covered position,” according to the letter.

One of the Most Effective Anti-Trump Groups in the Country Is Now Tackling Voter Suppression in the States
Sam Stein — May 13, 2019, The Daily Beast

The objective is, in practice, similar to what the organization currently does. But this time, the target is different. Instead of trying to unearth evidence of corruption and political malfeasance inside the White House, American Oversight will be looking into state governments to dig up the actual motivations, communications, and moneyed interests behind restrictive voter laws—and to potentially tie them back to national figures like former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, or Trump administration officials themselves.

“Voter suppression is the corruption of democracy itself, and most of that corruption isn’t happening in Washington, DC, but in the state and local governments that set the rules for voting,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “American Oversight has spent two years using public records requests and litigation to expose the truth and hold federal officials accountable, and we’re now using that same model to fight corruption in the states.”

Emails show GSA’s shutdown struggle over Trump Hotel site
Jennifer Yachnin and Kevin Bogardus — May 3, 2019, E&E News

Frustrations mounted in the General Services Administration earlier this year as the agency struggled to explain why it reopened a National Park Service unit inside the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., during the partial government shutdown, with some officials worrying the agency’s slow response could make the decision “look suspicious,” according to newly disclosed documents.

Email exchanges between GSA officials were revealed in response to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act by American Oversight. The watchdog shared those documents with E&E News.

The conversations reveal new details about the Trump administration’s efforts to defend its decision to reopen the park service site inside the president’s namesake hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue even as other public sites remained closed in what would become a 35-day shutdown

Democrats look to courts as White House stonewalls on subpoenas
Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb — April 25, 2019, CNN

A contempt citation can take many forms, from a symbolic vote on the House floor to the long-dormant inherent contempt, in which an individual or official is held against their will until they comply. Congress can also vote to refer someone to the US attorney in DC to put before the grand jury for potential prosecution, but that’s a limited option if the President has asserted executive privilege.

“There is no clear, simple, easy enforcement mechanism because it has depended on institutional relationships for so long,” said John Bies, the chief counsel at American Oversight and a former Justice Department lawyer. “The system has never really been tested this way.”

Barr Must Give Congress Mueller’s Investigative Work, Not Just His Report
Molly Claflin (American Oversight’s Chief Oversight Counsel) — April 11, 2018, The Daily Beast

With Attorney General William Barr scrubbing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report of material he deems unfit to share with Congress, what is eventually handed to Congress may be a redaction-riddled shell of the original. While that would be a travesty for the American public, who deserve the see the full report, reading Mueller’s words isn’t what finally matters.

What Congress needs—and should receive—is the underlying evidence. And the group that has most vocally argued for their right to that evidence is none other than congressional Republicans.

Scrutiny and suspicion as Mueller report undergoes redaction
Devlin Barrett — April 7, 2019, The Washington Post

The first public confrontation is imminent, with Barr scheduled to appear Tuesday and Wednesday before the House and Senate Appropriations committees for hearings ostensibly about the Justice Department’s budget. He is expected to face extensive questioning about the Mueller report and his ongoing redaction process, though, and his testimony will be scrutinized for any sign he is trying to protect the president.

“There’s a lot of pressure all pointing in the direction of doing a robust release,” said John Bies, who held senior roles in the Justice Department during the Obama administration and now works at American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group. “We are very hopeful the attorney general will do the right thing here and make everything public that can lawfully be made public.”

Pentagon watchdog to investigate complaints of alleged ethics violations against acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan
Elizabeth McLaughlin — March 20, 2019, ABC News

Earlier this month, American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group founded by former Obama administration officials, filed a lawsuit against Shanahan, alleging that his Boeing ties “have given the company undue influence.” The group charged that the Pentagon failed to respond to four Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information relating to those ties.

“We are aware of the FOIA request submitted by American Oversight and are responding appropriately,” Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, Shanahan’s spokesperson, told ABC News at the time. “Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to complying with his ethics agreement, which includes a screening arrangement that ensures Boeing matters are referred to another appropriate DoD official.”

HUD Sec. Carson on white supremacists, public housing and that dining room set
Yamiche Alcindor (interviewer) — March 19, 2019, PBS NewsHour

See the interview and transcript here.

Ben Carson’s schedule shows Friday trips to Florida, lunch with My Pillow founder
Laura Stickler — March 18, 2019, NBC News

A list of appointments for a 31-week period shows that for about half of the Fridays Carson worked a traditional eight or nine-hour day. For five of the Fridays he was off or had no appointments. For five more Fridays he left before 2 p.m. to get to the airport to fly to South Florida, where he owns a house valued at $4.3 million. For the remaining six, he had no scheduled appointments past 3 p.m. In all, he made a dozen weekend trips to South Florida during the 31 weeks.

The calendar also indicates that in 2017, HUD’s senior staff huddled just once a week. Calendars previously posted by three other federal departments — Transportation, Treasury, and Labor — during the Trump administration show daily senior team meetings or multiple meetings a week

‘Not in Compliance’: Wilbur Ross, The Trump Official Who Keeps Watchdogs Up at Night

Carrie Levine and Peter Overby — February 27, 2019, The Center for Public Integrity and NPRBut Ross, 81, continues to serve as commerce secretary without sanction even as Cabinet officials all around him have been felled by their ethical foibles. The saga showcases the weaknesses of a government ethics system that has long relied on political pressure as an enforcement mechanism and wasn’t designed to police billionaires.

Ross failed to divest assets when he said he would — despite telling ethics officials he had done so. His inaccuracies and omissions have also prompted serious questions about whether he took official actions that could affect his personal financial interests, which would violate conflict of interest law — something he has repeatedly said he hasn’t done.

Ross has acknowledged mistakes in his personal financial disclosures. One of his assets, a tranche of stock in investment management firm Invesco Ltd. worth between $10 million and $50 million, went up in value by seven figures during his delay divesting it, a previous Center for Public Integrity investigation found.

Read more about our investigation into Ross’ financial holdings here.

Emails reveal coordination between Chao, McConnell offices
Tanya Snyder — February 19, 2019, Politico

Chao has met at least 10 times with politicians and business leaders from the state in response to requests from McConnell’s office, according to documents provided to Politico by the watchdog group American Oversight. In some cases, those people later received what they were hoping for from Chao’s department, including infrastructure grants, the designation of an interstate highway and assistance in getting state funds for a highway project — although the documents don’t indicate that the meetings led to those outcomes.

The records also do not show how frequently Chao has met with people from outside Kentucky, a state her husband has represented in the Senate since 1985, or how readily she has responded to similar requests from other lawmakers. But at least a dozen of the emails show McConnell’s staff acting as a conduit between Chao and Kentucky political figures or business leaders, some of whom previously have had relationships with the couple.

See the emails here.

Confidential Memo: Company of Trump Inaugural Chair Sought to Profit From Connections to Administration, Foreigners
Justin Elliot and IIya Marritz — February 5, 2019, ProPublica

Calendars obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight show that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met at least three times with Colony executives in the four months following the inaugural.

An April 14 meeting with Mnuchin at a private room at the Georgetown restaurant Fiola Mare included the ambassadors of Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

See Secretary Mnuchin’s calendars here.

Help Pick the Worst of Trump
Gail Collins — January 30, 2019, New York Times Opinion

“D.H.S. Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has earned the mantle of Worst Cabinet Secretary,” argued Austin Evers, executive director of the watchdog group American Oversight. “Nielsen has enthusiastically generated false evidence to justify the president’s xenophobic immigration policies, zealously executed those policies in ways that have shocked the world, and then brazenly lied about both.”

Trump admin blames shutdown for ‘slow roll’ on House oversight
Anita Kumar — January 29, 2019, Politico

Most documents congressional investigators request from the White House or agencies are electronic — either emails or documents stored on a computer. They are typically first reviewed by lower-level staffers, such as paralegals and IT techs, said a former attorney in the Obama White House familiar with congressional requests. “Everything is on computers,” the lawyer said. Senior aides will review the package after its compiled.

Austin Evers, former senior counsel in State Department who is now executive director of American Oversight, a group founded to hold the Trump administration accountable, urged Congress to use its subpoena power if needed to ensure the administration does not engage in obstruction.

A Trump family aide tried to get a HUD colleague fired by name-dropping Eric Trump
Tracy Jan and Juliet Eilperin – December 31, 2018, The Washington Post

Just three weeks into the Trump presidency, Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump family aide and freshly minted senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, had a personnel problem she deemed serious enough to invoke her powerful connections.

In a flurry of emails to the Office of Presidential Personnel in February 2017, Patton sought to remove Maren Kasper, the White House’s HUD liaison, because Patton felt undermined.

“Dr. Carson & his team deem her divisive and disruptive, as do I,” Patton wrote to John DeStefano, assistant to Trump and then director of presidential personnel, and his deputy director, Sean Doocey, on Feb. 8. “If it helps, Eric Trump agrees that it’s best to nip this potential problem in the bud & told me to call Jared [Kushner], if necessary, but I prefer to go through you all first.”

See our records of Lynne Patton’s emails here.

Yes, Ben Carson Is Still in Trump’s Cabinet. And Congressional Probes Could Be Coming His Way.
Nathalie Baptiste – December 26, 2018, Mother Jones

That doesn’t mean he’s been entirely free from scandal. In early 2018, the New York Times reported that his office had spent $31,000 on a new dining set. Federal law requires that departments get congressional approval for office redecorating that exceeds $5,000, which no one at HUD did. But that was the rare moment when the HUD secretary was in the news at all—and that includes for his work at the department.

“As Scott Pruitt’s and Ryan Zinke’s outlandish corruption has filled the headlines, Ben Carson has largely avoided the spotlight,” Austin Evers, executive director of ethics watchdog group American Oversight, told Mother Jones in an emailed statement. “He’s so far been able to escape serious consequences for the nepotism and incompetence that he’s allowed to run rampant at his agency, but with a Congress that’s intent on conducting oversight, that’s probably going to change.”

See our full investigation into Secretary Carson’s leadership at HUD and family involvement at the agency here

Ryan Zinke To Step Down One Day Before Dems Get Oversight Powers
C – December 15th, 2018, The Huffington Post

But the intense scrutiny Zinke was certain to face next year from House Democrats wielding new oversight authority turned out to be a fight that he ― or perhaps the boss he’s been so loyal to ― wasn’t up for. President Donald Trump announced early Saturday that Zinke will resign at the end of the year.

Zinke’s final day as agency chief will be Jan. 2, The Associated Press reported Saturday, citing his resignation letter. That’s one day before Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. In recent weeks, some Democratic lawmakers made clear that they intended to investigate both Zinke’s personal conduct and policy decisions. He has faced nearly 20 federal investigations, one of which has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal violations.

See our investigation into Ryan Zinke’s unethical leadership at Interior here.

A Border Patrol Media Officer Had To Remind His Agency Not To Describe Immigrants As #CatchOfTheDay
Adolfo Flores – December 6, 2018, Buzzfeed

At a time when the Trump administration has made great efforts to portray undocumented people as criminals, the then-director of the United States border enforcement agency’s media division told spokespeople to describe immigrants humanely, with dignity and respect.

An Oct. 26, 2017, email cited Customs and Border Protection’s social media hashtag #CatchOfTheDay as an example of what not to do.

The email was provided to BuzzFeed News by the nonprofit watchdog group American Oversight, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request after it noticed that the Department of Homeland Security used the #CatchOfTheDay hashtag with photos of immigrants the government had apprehended.

See the emails from CBP here.

Agency Pulls Back on Its Warning Against Talk of ‘Resistance’ in Federal Workplaces
Charlie Savage – November 30, 2018, The New York Times

The clarification came as the agency issued findings that six members of the Trump administration had violated the Hatch Act for using Mr. Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan in Twitter posts, based on its reasoning that the slogan amounted to endorsing his campaign. At the same time, the office cleared Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, for using the term “MAGAnomics” in an opinion column, ruling that its context was Mr. Trump’s economic program rather than his 2020 re-election effort.

Against that backdrop, not all critics of the guidance initially issued this week were mollified. Among them, Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said in a statement that the rules remained unclear and called on the office to withdraw all the guidance and start over.

See our response to the OSC’s new Hatch Act guidance here.

House Democrats pile on to scrutinize DeVos
Michael Stratford – November 24, 2018, Politico

As they mull their targets, House Democrats can also turn to a slew of left-leaning watchdog groups that have cropped in the past two years, some of whom have already been working to put DeVos and the Education Department on the defense.

Groups like American Oversight, National Student Legal Defense Network and Democracy Forward have all filed multiple lawsuits against the department — many focusing on its ties to the for-profit education industry.

“We are certainly hopeful that the Department of Education will cooperate with the incoming Democratic chairs’ oversight requests,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, which published a list of oversight topics for Democrats to take on after the election. “However, given this administration’s track record when it comes to following the law, it would not be surprising if Congress has to use subpoenas to get any useful information.”

See our investigation into influence and access at the Department of Education here

House Democrats plan to investigate Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email for government business
Sarah D. Wire – November 20, 2018, Los Angeles Times

Democrats will examine Ivanka Trump’s email use when they take control of the House in January following reports that she used a personal email address to conduct official government business, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Tuesday.

American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group that uncovered Ivanka Trump’s personal email use, urged Congress to investigate. “When we went to court last year, we expected to find the president’s daughter had an unusual role in the White House, but we didn’t anticipate this kind of extensive use of a personal email server or the panicked damage control effort that unfolded after we started asking questions,” Austin Evers, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

See our letter calling for Congress to investigate Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email here.

Matthew Whitaker Earned $1.2 Million From Group Backed by Undisclosed Donors
Maggie Haberman and Kenneth Vogal – November 20, 2018, The New York Times

Matthew G. Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was paid more than $1.2 million in the past few years by a group active in conservative politics that does not reveal its donors, according to financial disclosure statements released Tuesday and other documents.

“The filings make clear that his campaign committee took donations and made expenditures in 2018 after he took office,” said Austin Evers, the executive director of the liberal watchdog group American Oversight, adding that the donations appear to violate the Hatch Act.

See our investigation into Matthew Whitaker’s financial conflicts of interest here.

Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business last year
Carol Leonnig and Josh Dawsey – November 19, 2018, The Washington Post

Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.

Austin Evers, executive director of the liberal watchdog group American Oversight, whose record requests sparked the White House discovery, said it strained credulity that Trump’s daughter did not know that government officials should not use private emails for official business.

“There’s the obvious hypocrisy that her father ran on the misuse of personal email as a central tenet of his campaign,” Evers said. “There is no reasonable suggestion that she didn’t know better. Clearly everyone joining the Trump administration should have been on high alert about personal email use.”

See our investigation into Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s roles at the White House here

Ivanka Trump Repeatedly Used Personal Email at White House, Review Finds
Maggie Haberman – November 19, 2018, The New York Times

Ivanka Trump repeatedly used a personal email account to conduct government business in 2017, a White House review found, a fact that raises the stakes on congressional oversight hearings that the new Democratic House majority will hold.

The liberal watchdog group American Oversight said on its website that its freedom of information requests had led to the discovery of the volume of Ms. Trump’s email use. The emails obtained by American Oversight showed exchanges with the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and other top personnel at agencies.

“The president’s family is not above the law, and there are serious questions that Congress should immediately investigate,” Austin Evers, the group’s executive director, said in a statement on the website.

See our records showing Ivanka Trump’s use of personal email here

Asked About Conflict-Prone Meeting, Wilbur Ross’ Spokesperson Issued Misleading Statement
Dan Alexander – November 5, 2018, Forbes

Federal law prohibits officials from taking certain actions that affect their personal holdings. But when asked about the meeting last July, a spokesperson for the commerce department suggested Ross and Teramoto had nothing to worry about. “There was a purely social lunch with Mr. Furman at which Secretary Ross paid the bill,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “No items specific to Greenbrier have been before the secretary during his tenure at commerce.”

Recently released documents, however, tell another story. According to a 1,900-page version of Ross’ calendar obtained by the government watchdog group American Oversight, Furman was actually an executive board member of the Rail Security Alliance, a trade group that lobbied the commerce secretary one day before Furman’s more intimate meeting. “The leaders of the nation’s leading rail manufacturers will be in town,” the executive director of the trade group wrote, “to discuss the economic and security concerns presented by the growing presence of Chinese state-owned enterprise in the United States in critical infrastructure sectors like rail.”

See Wilbur Ross’ 2017 calendars here

Rex Tillerson Spent $1 Million In Taxpayer Money Flying Around The Country, Watchdog Group Estimates
Jessica Schulberg– October 18, 2018, The Huffington Post

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent over $1 million in taxpayer money flying around the country aboard military jets, often traveling for personal purposes, according to an estimate by American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

The estimate is based on government documents the group obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with HuffPost. The documents show that Tillerson used military jets at least 15 times during his nearly 14-month stint as the nation’s top diplomat to travel to Texas, Colorado, Montana, and West Virginia. Five of the trips are clearly described as “personal travel” in State Department memos to the Defense Department, requesting use of the aircraft. The other 10 trips referenced in the documents do not indicate the purpose of Tillerson’s travels — but his public schedules at the time do not indicate any official reason for those trips.

See Rex Tillerson’s flight records here

New Evidence Suggests Trump’s Coordination With GSA on FBI Headquarters Plan
Charles S. Clark– October 18, 2018, Government Executive

Newly released emails and an official White House photo provide evidence suggesting that President Trump himself directed the General Services Administration and the FBI to modify a years-in-the-works plan to move the FBI’s downtown Washington headquarters.

A letter sent Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and four other Democrats, challenged GSA Administrator Emily Murphy on her congressional testimony that she did not discuss the decision to change the relocation plan with the White House.


Separately, the story behind the Trump administration’s handling of the FBI headquarters will be among the top priorities in the coming months for American Oversight, a nonprofit legal group that focuses on agency transparency. At a Wednesday briefing with reporters, the group’s leaders said they have been actively filing FOIA requests for documents on the canceled move.

See our lawsuit regarding President Trump’s role ending plans to relocate the FBI headquarters here

Wilbur Ross Lied to Congress About the GOP’s Plot to Rig the Census. This Should Be a National Scandal.
Jay Michaelson– October 18, 2018, The Daily Beast 

Even without Ross’s and Gore’s depositions, the documents unearthed already led Republicans and Democrats alike to demand answers from Secretary Ross.

“The Trump administration has never told the American people the truth about the citizenship question, and it is increasingly clear that DOJ engaged in pretextual exercise to justify a political decision that could have serious consequences for the accuracy of the census,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight, said in a statement.

Democrats, meanwhile, have vowed to nix the citizenship question entirely if they retake control of Congress in 2019.

As is often the case though, at this point the cover-up may be bigger than the crime, so to speak. Regardless of who said what to whom about the citizenship question, Ross clearly misled Congress in his sworn testimony, and that may have its own set of consequences. Making a false statement to a government agency is a felony, and the FBI could launch a criminal investigation, especially if directed to do so by a newly Democratic House committee.

See our records from Commerce regarding readiness for the 2020 Census here.

Attorney General Calls Out Judge on Census Citizenship Question
Charles S. Clark– October 16, 2018, Government Executive

Separately on Oct. 12, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the nonprofit ethics group American Oversight filed suit against the Justice Department to enforce an earlier Freedom of Information Act request for release of records related to the department’s role in reinstating the citizenship census question.

“The Justice Department’s efforts to add a citizenship status question to the 2020 census are deeply problematic given this administration’s hostility to communities of color–which include immigrant people–in both its rhetoric and policies,” said Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at LDF. “The American people deserve to know the precise reasons that the Justice Department has been so intent on including a citizenship status question on the next census. We do not believe it’s in order to protect minority voting rights, as the department claims. If the department has nothing to hide, it should disclose the requested materials.”

See our records regarding the 2020 Census here.

White House moves to replace Interior Department IG amid probe of Secretary Ryan Zinke
Laura Strickler– October 16, 2018, NBC

The White House appears to be replacing the agency watchdog at the Interior Department who is in the midst of two investigations into Secretary Ryan Zinke, drawing criticism from government oversight groups.


Tufts’ previous experience includes working for the Trump campaign recruiting and training lawyers deployed by the Republican National Lawyers Association to watch the polls on Election Day 2016, according to her resume obtained through a freedom of information request by the American Oversight watchdog group and shared with NBC News. Tufts also noted on her resume that she had experience “staffing events hosted by President Donald J. Trump for Victory.”

See our investigation into Ryan Zinke’s unethical behavior at Interior here.

Meet the new director of Medicaid
Dan Diamond– October 16, 2018, Politico Pulse

INSIDE ALEX AZAR’s FIRST 90 DAYS — The HHS secretary’s calendars were obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group, through the Freedom of Information Act and shared first with PULSE. See the calendars.

Who got the most time with Azar. According to his schedule between the end of January and the end of April, Azar held:

— Weekly meetings with CMS Administrator Seema Verma, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and CDC Director Robert Redfield.
— Monthly meetings with NIH Director Francis Collins and Elinore McCance-Katz, the assistant secretary for mental heath and substance use.
— Near-daily morning meetings with HHS chief of staff Peter Urbanowicz and deputy chief of staff Brian Harrison.

See Alex Azar’s calendars here

New document contradicts Ross’s congressional testimony on census citizenship question
Tara Bahrampour – October 11, 2018, The Washington Post

Internal documents released in the New York case over the summer indicated that Ross was pushing for a citizenship question more actively, and much earlier, than his sworn testimony indicated.

Democrats have said they will try to legislate against the question if they gain control of the House or the Senate in next month’s midterm elections. They could also request the Justice Department prosecute Ross for perjury.

“It is a crime to lie to Congress, and it is within the attorney general’s purview to prosecute it,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, an ethics watchdog group.

See our FOIAs regarding the 2020 Census here.

Behind Pruitt’s bug sweep: ‘Not all good’
Kevin Bogardus– October 11, 2018, E&E News

“Between you and me — this [is] not all good at all,” wrote Reginald Allen, then assistant deputy chief of staff at EPA, in an email to Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson almost two weeks after the sweep was conducted. He said Michelle Hale, then Pruitt’s executive assistant, and the security detail should not have been involved in contracting the bug sweep.

“Michelle and PSD can’t do that because they don’t know the rules or the touch points to get thing[s] done properly in many cases,” Allen wrote.

“For example the vendor used was not certified by the US Gov’t to do this kind of sensitive work, he was not vetted by Homeland Security, there happens to be a federal procedure for this type of action that was not followed, the purchase was never approved causing a whole set of issues, and on and on,” he said.

See our investigation into Scott Pruitt’s taxpayer wastes here

Democrats Say Justice Department Is Stonewalling on Kavanaugh Files
Andrew M Harris and Daniel Flatley– September 21, 2018, Bloomberg

At a hearing in Washington Friday, Justice Department lawyer Stephen Pezzi said as many as 5 million pages may require to be reviewed which would take a “very long time.” Elizabeth France, a lawyer for a Washington-based watchdog group, suggested that the government first look at records covering Kavanaugh’s time as the White House staff secretary to former President George W. Bush.

“Time is of the essence,” she told U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss.

The lawyers agreed to try and work out a document production schedule and said they’d update Moss on their progress by Sept. 28.

“In less than an hour in front of a federal court, the plaintiffs — members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — were able to extract commitments from the government to process records that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Austin Evers, executive director of the watchdog group American Oversight, said after the hearing.

See our investigation into Judge Kavanaugh’s past here. 

New Emails Show Confusion At The Pentagon After Trump’s Transgender Ban Tweets
Vera Bergengruen – September 21, 2018, Buzzfeed

Within minutes, Trump’s tweets had been shared among Pentagon officials in every way possible: in links, pasted to look like a formal statement, and screenshotted onto PowerPoint slides that were widely distributed among senior defense officials.

The emails, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group, and shared with BuzzFeed News, span the three hours after the president’s tweets and indicate frantic activity as senior officials, with no warning or formal guidance, resorted to sharing news reports by reporters who knew as little as they did. “Can you give me a call ASAP?” read one, while others describe hastily convened meetings in one another’s offices.

See our investigation into Trump’s transgender military ban here

Ben Carson’s HUD: Political loyalty required, no experience necessary
Tracy Jan – September 20, 2018, Washington Post

The political hires were among at least 24 people without evident housing policy experience who were appointed to the best-paying political positions at HUD, an agency charged with serving the poorest Americans. They account for a third of the 70 HUD appointees at the upper ranks of the federal government, with salaries above $94,000, according to the Post review of agency records.

The limited experience at the upper reaches of the agency — HUD Secretary Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has no prior housing, executive or government background — injected confusion into the rollout of policy initiatives and brought delays to even routine functions, according to interviews with 16 current and former career staff members.

See our HUD resumes here.

Scott Pruitt wasted millions at EPA on security detail, report says
Emily Holden – September 4, 2018, The Guardian

Pruitt’s protective service detail also did not conduct a threat analysis before assigning guards to stay with him at all hours and instead relied on an inspector general report to support ramping up his security. That report included more than a dozen alleged threats, including on social media and in postcards. In one complaint, the inspector general investigated someone drawing a moustache on a photo of Pruitt on the cover of a magazine and posting it in an EPA elevator.

Pruitt’s team also used the reported incidents to support his case for flying first class to avoid encounters with other passengers.

Austin Evers, executive director of the transparency group American Oversight that has been suing EPA for public records, said “the headline of the report is that EPA lacked policies and procedures to properly control security spending by the administrator, but what that says to me is the EPA was totally unprepared for an administrator like Scott Pruitt, who turned public service into a private benefit at every turn”.

See our records into Scott Pruitt’s taxpayer wastes here.

Postal Service Improperly Divulged Spanberger’s Sensitive National Security File, and Asks for It Back
Michael Tackett – August 30, 2018, New York Times

American Oversight, a progressive watchdog group that does freedom of information litigation, sued the Justice Department to obtain the response to a single question on Mr. Sessions’s form about his contact with Russian officials before the election, said Austin Evers, the executive director of the group. The department said it was releasing the answer to that question not under the Freedom of Information Act, he said, but with Mr. Sessions’ permission.

See the FOIAs we filed about Spanberger’s SF-86 here.

Judge Orders Release of Long-Secret Report on Leaks From Starr Inquiry
Adam Liptak – August 22, 2018, New York Times

Only four copies were prepared, and until recently their whereabouts was unknown. In a court filing on Tuesday, lawyers for American Oversight said the National Archives had recently located a copy.

The report was prepared by a special master appointed in 1998 by Judge Norma Holloway Johnson of the Federal District Court in Washington in response to complaints from lawyers for Mr. Clinton and others that Mr. Starr’s team had violated the law by disclosing information protected by grand jury secrecy rules.

See the court’s order granting our request to unseal the report and our investigation into Judge Kavanaugh’s past here

Senate Democrats want to know whether Kavanaugh crossed line as source during Clinton probe
Tom Hamburger, Robert Barnes, and Robert O’Harrow Jr. – August 22, 2018, Washington Post

Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth of the District of Columbia on Wednesday afternoon granted the request from the watchdog organization American Oversight to release the 62-page report, which was written in 1999 by Judge John Kern III, acting as a special master. Lamberth said the report should be released by the National Archives as quickly as possible but no later than 3 p.m. Friday

“There have been 20 years of rumors and speculation about who was doing the leaking on the Starr commission, and just a week after American Oversight asked for this report to be unsealed, we may finally get an answer,” said American Oversight’s executive director, Austin Evers. “If Judge Kavanaugh was involved in improper leaking of confidential information, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people have a right to know before he is confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court.”

See the 1999 Special Master’s Report here. 

Trump’s Favorite FCC Chairman Had a Really Bad Day on Capitol Hill
Tonya Riley – August 16, 2018, Mother Jones

Pai told the Senate today that he was first made aware that former Chief Information Officer David Bray’s initial findings might be incorrect when the OIG informed him in January about the investigation. They had found that the crash was caused by an increase in authentic public comments, not a DDoS attack. The report reaffirmed Pai’s assertions that the blame for the false claims lay solely on Bray and was not an intentional misleading of the public orchestrated by the agency.

Emails obtained by Gizmodo and the watchdog group American Oversight in June show that Bray made similar claims about an alleged 2014 DDoS attack that was never publicly reported. Bray stepped down from his role in August 2017 for reasons apparently unrelated to the incident.

See the emails we obtained from the FCC discussing the alleged cyberattack here

Inside Trump’s Voter-Fraud Crusade
Vann Newkirk – August 8, 2018, The Atlantic

Months after the group’s dissolution, a newly released slate of reports, emails, and meeting materials from the commission confirms the skeptical view. The cache of documents, obtained by the commission member and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap after he sued to have a court release them, highlights that much of the commission’s correspondence and activities were part of efforts by a tight circle of Republican officials, activists, researchers, and journalists to identify noncitizen voters. Their efforts seem to have focused less on a number of other serious issues around election integrity than on a broader anti-immigration agenda. The documents reveal that the commission, far from the vigilant and neutral defender of American democracy that White House leadership pretended to have chartered, conducted an inquisition during its seven-month existence.

See our full investigation into Trump’s voter fraud commission here

Trump panel found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, sought ‘pre-ordained outcome’: Former member
Lee Harris and Quinn Owen– August 5, 2018, CNN

A former Democratic member of the Trump administration’s now-disbanded election integrity commission says newly-released documents show no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and that “dissenting or even questioning voices” on the panel were unwelcome.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the two Republican leaders of the commission, that assertions of widespread fraud appeared aimed at fulfilling a “pre-ordained objective” of finding evidence to back up earlier unsubstantiated claims by President Trump that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election.

See our lawsuit on behalf of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and our investigation into the voter fraud commission here.

Trump voting commission had no evidence of widespread voter fraud, former member says
Clare Foran – August 4, 2018, CNN

The now-disbanded commission that President Donald Trump set up to investigate election integrity did not find evidence of widespread voter fraud, a former member of the panel said on Friday, citing internal documents he obtained related to commission activities.

“I have reviewed the Commission documents made available to me and they do not contain evidence of widespread voter fraud,” Maine’s Democratic secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach.

See our lawsuit on behalf of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and our investigation into the voter fraud commission here.

Top Trump-appointee at Veterans Affairs spread conspiracy theories, made anti-Muslim comments
Andrew Kaczynski – July 24, 2018, CNN

A senior Trump administration appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs spread birther conspiracy theories about then-President Barack Obama and made anti-Muslim comments on social media while working for the Trump campaign in Arizona.

Thayer Verschoor, the VA’s executive director of intergovernmental affairs, is a former Arizona state Senate majority leader and longtime ally of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a well-known birther who is currently running in the Republican primary for US Senate in Arizona.

Shortly after joining the Trump campaign in 2016, Verschoor shared a Facebook post that praised then-candidate Trump for thinking “Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud” and understanding there’s a Muslim “problem” in the US.

See our VA resumes which include Thayer Verschoor’s resume here

Judicial Watchdogs Are in Court to Make Brett Kavanaugh’s Entire Record Public
Stephanie Mencimer – July 18, 2018, Mother Jones

A month before President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in January 2017, the nonprofit court watchdog group Fix the Court had already filed a Freedom of Information Act with the US Department of Justice. The group wanted records related to Gorsuch’s service as deputy assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, particularly those related to any work he may have done on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. DOJ failed to respond to the request, in any meaningful way, and Fix the Court filed suit in February 2017. The litigation dragged on long after Gorsuch was confirmed in April, and the group finally gave up, never having obtained the full scope of Gorsuch’s records. It doesn’t intend to let that happen again with Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

See our lawsuits representing Fix The Court seeking to compel release of records of Kavanaugh’s time in government from DOJ and NARA.

Wilbur Ross stock holdings rose in value during improper divestment delay
Carrie Levine – July 5, 2018, Center for Public Integrity

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears to have earned seven figures from his failure to divest stock holdings until months after he was required to do so, a Center for Public Integrity analysis found.

Ross was supposed to sell his Invesco Ltd. stock, valued at between $10 million and $50 million, within 90 days of his Senate confirmation, according to his ethics agreement. He was confirmed on Feb. 27, 2017, which meant he was required to divest before the end of May 2017.

But in filings publicly released last month, Ross acknowledged he failed to sell his stock in Invesco until December 2017. By that time, his stock’s value had increased by between approximately $1.2 million to $6 million over its value at the end of May, depending on Ross’ actual number of shares, a figure that hasn’t previously been reported.

See the related records discussing Ross’ divestment before confirmation here.

HUD staffer who complained about Carson’s redecorating resigns under protest
Jack Gillum and Juliet Eilperin – June 27, 2018, The Washington Post

Foster filed a complaint with the special counsel’s office late last year, saying she was demoted in part for warning officials that the redecorations planned would require congressional notification since their cost would exceed $5,000. Despite that threshold, she alleged staffers had instructed her to “find money” for the effort.

Documents released by the left-leaning group American Oversight revealed HUD staffers vetted different furniture options for Carson while soliciting input from his wife, Candy.

In emails released under the Freedom of Information Act, Foster wrote to colleagues about being forced to respond to “endless questions about why I won’t fund more than the $5000 limit” for redecorating the office.

See related records we obtained of Ben Carson’s office renovation expenses here.

Senators Set Deadline for Ajit Pai’s FCC to Open Up About Its DDoS Attack Claims
Tom McKay – June 16, 2018, Gizmodo

In a letter shared with Gizmodo, Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) tell the FCC that they would like to see evidence of either cyberattack beyond “initial internal analyses,” such as subsequent government or third-party security firm investigations. They also ask the FCC to clarify on what grounds they determined the comment system downtime on either date was best classified as a cyberattack, as well as ask Pai whether he is cooperating in full with the Government Accountability Office (GOA) investigation to determine exactly what happened.

It’s been clear for some time that the FCC’s narrative on the alleged cyberattack is full of holes and outright fallacies; the agency has refused to release unredacted emails about the 2017 incident, meaning just what key personnel like Pai knew and when is being hidden from the public. Those records may prove crucial to determine whether the agency’s revocation of the net neutrality rules was pushed through as the agency knowingly lied to the public.

See records we uncovered of FCC communications regarding the alleged attack here.

House Democrat accuses Scott Pruitt of delaying public-records requests by answering Obama-era ones first
Dino Grandoni – June 11, 2018, The Washington Post

The “first-in, first out” tactic for requests made through the Freedom of Information Act is yet another example of the EPA restricting what records make their way into the public eye since Pruitt has taken office. That public-records policy was described in a letter sent Monday to Pruitt by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which requested documents from the administrator.

That committee’s investigation into Pruitt is just one of at least a dozen federal inquiries the EPA chief is facing over his questionable spending and management decisions at the agency.

His tenure has also drawn the scrutiny of journalists, environmentalists and other members of the public who have filed thousands of FOIA requests with the EPA since Pruitt has taken office and attempted to unravel environmental rules put in place by the previous administration.

See our lawsuit on the EPA’s practice of systematically delaying FOIA requests here.

Two Pruitt Aides Resign as E.P.A. Ethics Questions Continue:
Lisa Friedman and Eric Lipton – June 6, 2018, New York Times

The departures come as Mr. Pruitt faces fresh questions about his management decisions. On Monday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which is conducting one of 12 investigations into his spending and ties to lobbyists, released a partial transcript of an interview with Ms. Hupp showing that Mr. Pruitt asked her to do personal errands for him, including apartment hunting and asking the Trump International Hotel if Mr. Pruitt could purchase a used mattress.

Emails obtained under public records laws also showed that Mr. Pruitt had asked Sydney Hupp, Ms. Hupp’s sister and the administrator’s former scheduler, to facilitate a meeting with the chief executive of Chick-fil-A regarding a “potential business opportunity.” That turned out to be a possible franchise for Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn.

See our investigation into Scott Pruitt’s mismanagement of the EPA here. See a round-up of what we’ve found related to Pruitt’s many scandals here.

White House’s Nafta Approach Frustrates Businesses, Panicked Emails Show
Ana Swanson– June 6, 2018, New York Times

Documents show corporations and trade groups — such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, or NAM — struggling to get their voices heard within a supposedly business-friendly administration and sending increasingly panicked emails to the United States trade representative’s office about its approach to rewriting the pact.

Throughout last spring and summer, high-level trade negotiators repeatedly canceled meetings with the chamber, instead finally sending a 24-year-old deputy to meet with a delegation that was expected to include representatives from more than 50 of the largest American companies and organizations, including Walmart, U.P.S., the Walt Disney Company, General Electric, General Motors, Caterpillar and Boeing.

See the related email communications we obtained about the Trump administration’s attempts to renegotiate NAFTA here.

FCC Emails Show Agency Spread Lies to Bolster Dubious DDoS Attack Claims
Dell Cameron – June 5, 2018, Gizmodo

Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo lay bare the agency’s efforts to counter rife speculation that senior officials manufactured a cyberattack, allegedly to explain away technical problems plaguing the FCC’s comment system amid its high-profile collection of public comments on a controversial and since-passed proposal to overturn federal net neutrality rules.

The FCC has been unwilling or unable to produce any evidence an attack occurred—not to the reporters who’ve requested and even sued over it, and not to U.S. lawmakers who’ve demanded to see it. Instead, the agency conducted a quiet campaign to bolster its cyberattack story with the aid of friendly and easily duped reporters, chiefly by spreading word of an earlier cyberattack that its own security staff say never happened.

See the related emails about the alleged cyberattack against the FCC’s net neutrality comment section here.

Group files suit to show whether offshore drilling announcement was supposed to boost Scott
Bruce Ritchie – May 24, 2018, Politico

Zinke in January proposed drilling in most federal waters, including those off the Florida coast. But he later announced that Florida was “off the table” after meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, who later filed to run for Senate against Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

American Oversight said Wednesday it was suing for records to shed light on the department’s decision to exempt Florida. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington seeks emails and other records related to offshore drilling in 14 coastal states, including Florida.

Zinke’s decision to exclude Florida as Scott was preparing an election bid for the Senate “looks like more than a coincidence,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, in a statement first provided to POLITICO.

See our related lawsuit into Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida from his offshore drilling plan here.

Rise from one-time Uber driver to chief of staff startles some HUD observers
Rene Marsh – May 14, 2018, CNN

CNN’s review of Hughes’ prior experience and employment as listed on his financial disclosure form found that, just eight months before joining HUD, Hughes worked as a special projects coordinator for the University of Texas System and briefly as an Uber driver.

During his time at the university, Hughes managed social media and websites, compiled press releases, planned university events, researched funding opportunities and kept abreast of any legislation related to higher education, according to his resume, obtained through a freedom of information request by American Oversight, a watchdog group with former Obama appointees.

Former political appointees from both parties, along with current department staff, have expressed concern that Carson, a medical doctor with no government experience prior to taking the reins of HUD, is surrounded by some advisers and now a chief of staff who are similarly inexperienced.

See the related resumes we uncovered here. Many of the resumes we obtained show inexperience and connections to the Trump campaign or organization. See our investigation here.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Violated Federal Law to Promote Trump, Special Counsel’s Office Says
Dell Cameron – May 1, 2018, Gizmodo

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act when he told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to “make sure President Trump gets re-elected,” the letter says. The OSC wrote that O’Rielly “violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election.”

The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, forbids most federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on the job.

The OSC issued O’Rielly a warning stating that another violation would be considered “a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1215.”

See our letter to the OSC claiming that FCC Commissioner O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act here.

Ben Carson Defends Buying $31,000 Dining Set to Congress: ‘I Left It to My Wife’
Glenn Thrush – March 20, 2018, The New York Times

But for the most part, Mr. Carson sought to distance himself from the purchase, saying that he had delegated most of the decision-making to his wife and top aides, including his executive assistant

“I invited my wife to come and help,” he said. “I left it to my wife, you know, to choose something. I dismissed myself from the issues.” And it was Mrs. Carson, he said, who “selected the color and style” of the furniture, “with the caveat that we were both not happy about the price.”

But emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request last week seemed to contradict that account. In an Aug. 29, 2017 email, the department’s administrative officer, Aida Rodriguez, wrote that one of her colleagues “has printouts of the furniture the secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.”

See emails we uncovered related to Ben Carson’s office redecoration expenses here.

Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof phone booth? It actually cost more like $43,000.
Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin – March 14, 2018, The Washington Post

The agency paid a Virginia firm $7,978 to remove closed-circuit television equipment to make room for the booth, according to a federal database. Officials hired another contractor to pour 55 square feet of concrete more than two feet thick, at a cost of $3,470, according to invoices released under a public records request by the watchdog group American Oversight. Other workers installed a drop ceiling for $3,361, while still others patched and painted the small area for $3,350, records show.

In total, the EPA appears to have spent more than $18,000 on the prep work, readying the space for a $25,000 soundproof booth that has brought Pruitt a wave of criticism and official scrutiny. The total cost for the project now appears to be closer to $43,000.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) later found that Scott Pruitt violated federal spending laws.

See Scott Pruitt’s office renovation expenses, including the extra expenses for the installation of the soundproof booth here

Big Pharma’s Government Revolving Door: ‘Who Do They Really Work For?’
Sydney Lupkin – January 25, 2018, The Daily Beast

KHN also reviewed the résumés of more than 100 HHS appointees, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by American Oversight, a nonprofit founded to hold government officials accountable. Although only a handful of recent appointees were employed directly by drug companies, more than a dozen had worked as lobbyists, consultants, and lawyers on behalf of pharmaceutical firms.

The high-level HHS appointees include: Keagan Lenihan, a former lobbyist for drug distributor McKesson who now serves as senior counselor to the secretary at HHS; former PhRMA lobbyist John O’Brien, now deputy assistant secretary of health policy for the agency’s Planning and Evaluation arm; and former Bristol-Myers Squibb lobbyist Mary-Sumpter Lapinski, an attorney in the HHS secretary’s office.

See HHS resumes we uncovered here.

How a Twentysomething Eagle Scout Became One of Donald Trump’s Top Trade Hands

Lachlan Markay – January 25, 2018, The Daily Beast

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, is relying on a small group of relatively unseasoned officials to advance a complex agenda, including renegotiating landmark free trade deals and cracking down on allegedly unfair practices by China, Mexico, and other major global economic partners. None have drawn more scrutiny and attention within the trade policy community than G. Payne Griffin, Lighthizer’s deputy chief of staff.

Few, if anyone, in trade circles knew of Griffin prior to his appointment by Lighthizer. That’s because, prior to his appointment by Lighthizer, Griffin was not in trade circles. Griffin attended American University where, by all accounts, he was an exemplary student. He graduated with a bachelors in economics and political science in 2014 and made the Dean’s List. His first job out of college was as a staff assistant for Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL). By January 2015, he was a legislative correspondent for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a job that typically involves corresponding with constituents and helping senior staff craft policy.

See USTR resumes we uncovered here.

Meet the 24-year-old Trump campaign worker appointed to help lead the government’s drug policy office
Robert O’Harrow Jr. – January 14, 2018, The Washington Post

In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St. John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organized a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families.

Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House office responsible for coordinating the federal government’s multibillion dollar anti-drug initiatives and supporting President Trump’s efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Weyeneth would soon become deputy chief of staff.

Following the report, the appointee announced that he would resign, highlighting the importance of holding the Trump administration accountable for who they hire into senior-level jobs — including those that do not  need to be confirmed by the Senate.

See Treasury resumes we uncovered here.

HHS Political Appointees’ Résumés Show Ties to Price, Pence
January 8, 2018, Roll Call

The résumés were shared exclusively with Roll Call after being obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by American Oversight, a watchdog group formed last year to track the Trump administration. The documents show that a bevy of appointees are HHS veterans from the George W. Bush administration. That will include Azar, who technically needs to be re-nominated by Trump since his nomination did not roll over into 2018.

Azar, who served as both general counsel and deputy HHS secretary during the Bush administration, likely already has a working familiarity with many agency staffers, including career employees and appointees, said Tom Scully, a former CMS administrator under President George W. Bush who also worked with Azar. Having previously led pharmaceutical company Lilly USA, Azar will likely bring people he knows well into the administration, but Scully said it was unlikely he would tap many people from the industry.

See HHS resumes we uncovered here.

The State Department Accidentally Promoted Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Then Chaos Ensued.
Lachlan Markay – December 11, 2017, The Daily Beast

When the State Department published a glowing profile of President Donald Trump’s “winter White House” at Mar-a-Lago in April, they thought it would be a mundane bit of content that might attract a few foreign readers to U.S. embassy websites. Instead, staff found themselves embroiled in a heated controversy over the use of government resources to promote the president’s private business interests, according to a review of internal emails.

The post from ShareAmerica, a news and information division of the State Department, provided a brief history of the Mar-a-Lago property and noted Trump’s use of his club early in his presidency to host high-level meetings with foreign leaders.

See our investigation into the ways Donald Trump profits off the presidency here.

Several Trump Properties Suffer Financially (But Not Ones He Visits Often)
Jackie Northam – December 3, 2017, NPR

“Some of his businesses around the world are not doing particularly well, but the ones he frequents as president are doing better than ever,” says Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a D.C.-based accountability organization. He says golf courses where Trump plays regularly, in New Jersey and Virginia, are doing well.

“You see that at the Trump International Hotel, which got to raise rates in 2017 and went from predicting that it would run a loss to turning a profit. … You also see increased profits at Mar-a-Lago, which the president has rebranded as the ‘winter White House,’ ” he says.

See our investigation into the ways Donald Trump profits off the presidency here.

‘UGH!’: Zinke’s wife’s travel caused headaches for Interior staff
Ben Lefebvre – November 20, 2017, Politico

Lolita Zinke was originally scheduled to return to Washington, DC, from Alaska on a military flight, but she requested to stay in Alaska longer with her husband as he was set to attend a Memorial Day ceremony. “Mrs. Zinke prolonged her trip because the Senator invited her to participate in the Rolling Thunder ride and ceremony,” Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said in an email.

Swift added that Lolita Zinke had paid for her own commercial flight back home from Alaska.

The documents show that after an advance staffer learned that Lolita Zinke would be departing at a different date than previously scheduled, the staffer emailed with another staffer: “UGH! We have all kinds of planes, trains and automobiles manifests to now scramble with.”

See our related records detailing Lola Zinke’s involvement at Interior here.

C.E.O. of Puerto Rico Power Authority Resigns
Frances Robles – November 11, 2017, New York Times

He [Zinke] immediately came under withering criticism and congressional and federal review for awarding a $300 million contract to a small private company from Montana, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help repair the grid. Prepa had agreed to pay $319 an hour for electrical linemen; the average salary in Puerto Rico for that work is $19 an hour. The authority later canceled the contract, even while defending it.

Mr. Ramos faced a skeptical Senate hearing on Tuesday. Lawmakers were hesitant to approve the governor’s request for $94 billion in aid while questions remained unanswered about the power grid contract. Mr. Ramos told lawmakers that there had been no kickbacks, but acknowledged that the company had long been rife with political patronage, and that up to half of the employees were the family members of politicians.

See our investigating into the $300 million dollar contract awarded to a Zinke-linked company here.

Trump’s Claim That Obama Wiretapped His Campaign is False: U.S. Department of Justice
Nina Burleigh – September 2, 2017, Newsweek

The statement came in a court filing Friday night in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by the government watchdog group American Oversight, which had requested “Warrant applications or records requesting a court order to intercept communications related to candidate Donald Trump, Trump Tower, entities housed in Trump Tower, or any person affiliated with Mr. Trump’s campaign; court orders approving or rejecting those requests; records of those wiretaps, and; communications between the FBI or DOJ and Congress relating to these issues.”

See the records we obtained where DOJ stated Trump’s claims were false here.

Trump voter fraud commission faces lawsuit from member
Christina A. Cassidy – November 9, 2017, The Associated Press

The commission has spurred controversy from the moment it was established in May. Its first significant action was to request a wide range of information about all registered voters in every state, including partial Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and voting history.

Critics say Trump is using the commission to find support for his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud that cost him the popular vote during the 2016 election. Democrat Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes nationwide than Trump.

See our lawsuit on behalf of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and our investigation into the voter fraud commission here.

Betsy DeVos’s Schedule Shows Focus on Religious and Nontraditional Schools
Eric Lipton – October 27, 2017, The New York Times

An examination of Ms. DeVos’s calendar shows that she frequently leaves Washington on what appear to be long weekends, as her work calendar indicates no appointments on certain Fridays or Mondays surrounding these trips to destinations that have included Vero Beach, Fla., Aspen, Colo., and Grand Rapids, Mich. All are places where Ms. DeVos or a member of her family owns a home.

The records show that Ms. DeVos took long weekends on at least 11 occasions, meaning that her work calendar indicates no appointments on at least one workday around the weekend.
On Friday, March 3, for example, the records show that Ms. DeVos went to Aspen — where her family owns a ski-in, ski-out home in Snowmass Village — and that she did not return to the office, or have any work appointments, until Tuesday, March 7.

See Betsy DeVos’ calendars and our analysis of her schedule here.

Trump’s Small Business Chief Gave Speech at His Hotel, But Aides Tried to Keep Location Quiet
Max Kutner – October 24, 2017, Newsweek

During the event in September, an SBA staffer whose title is special adviser texted the agency’s deputy press secretary. The messages contained several photos of McMahon speaking, the documents show. In response to the photos, the deputy wrote, “Can you try to get the portrait mode one without the ‘Trump hotel’ sign in it?”

The staffer who sent the photos replied, “I know Trying to avoid it. Will try again.”

The deputy responded, “Lols.” Then the first staffer sent a photo of McMahon without the sign.

At one point, someone texted the deputy, “I’ll tweet with excerpts from speech…and crop the opulence out!” That person’s full name is not visible in the released document, and in the reply to that text, the deputy thanked the person by a name different from the one visible in the other messages. The documents contain the names of two of the staffers involved in the exchange.

See the emails and texts we obtained that show McMahon’s staff trying to hide her location here.

E.P.A. Chief’s Calendar: A Stream of Industry Meetings and Trips Home
Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman – October 3, 2017, The New York Times

In recent weeks, Freedom of Information Act requests from environmentalists, other nonprofit groups and news organizations including The Washington Post have dislodged documents that hint at Mr. Pruitt’s typical day. But for the first time, the most recent release, based on an open records request by the liberal nonprofit American Oversight, includes a description of the topics discussed at each of the meetings, and a list of all the agency officials and corporate executives scheduled to attend.

See former Administrator Pruitt’s calendars here.

Here’s the Email Ivanka Trump Sent From Her Private Account Doing Government Work
Inao Oh – September 25, 2017, Mother Jones

The new set of emails show Trump in February discussing a women’s entrepreneurship initiative on her private account with Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon. While Trump did not officially become a federal employee till March, Newsweek reports it’s highly likely she had access to a government email account at the time.

The revelation comes just one day after Politico reported her husband Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, used a private email account to communicate with other White House officials.

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump slammed Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state and urged that she be prosecuted and locked up for the offense.

See Ivanka Trump’s emails we obtained here.

Austin Evers Discusses Trump Inaugural Funds on MSNBC
The Beat with Ari Melber– September 18, 2017

Left says Trump EPA heavy on industry, political insiders
Timothy Cama – September 17, 2017, The Hill

Some of the individuals have already left the agency, but critics say the resumes show the administration is stacking the EPA with former industry officials as well as Trump and Pruitt political backers, with few environmental experts.

Samantha Dravis, for example, leads the office of policy at the 15,000-person agency, a powerful office that influences many of the major decisions the EPA makes in areas like air and water pollution.

See former Administrator Pruitt’s calendars here.

Cover-ups, excuses, denials swamp Trump camp on Russia contacts
The Rachel Maddow Show – September 12, 2017

That confirmation that President Obama never ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower, that confirmation that President Trump actually lied when he made that allegation about President Obama, that confirmation was forced begrudgingly into the public record, into that court filing by a Freedom of Information Act demand that was filed by a group called American Oversight.

And you know what? Tactically that was a smart use of FOIA, right, as a matter of public accountability, when you think about it. I mean, here is the president saying that the U.S. government had been directed by his predecessor to wiretap Trump’s phones. If that allegation were true, reasonably speaking, there would be records of that order or at least there would be records of that order being carried out.

See the records we obtained where DOJ stated Trump’s claims were false here.

Tapper: Trump’s Obama wiretap claims were lies
The Lead with Jake Tapper – September 5, 2017

Late on Friday, the Justice Department quietly acknowledged in a court filing that they too could find no evidence for President Trump’s wild tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower back in March.

The Justice Department was responding to a Freedom of Information Act request for evidence backing up the President’s claim. But even the President’s own Justice Department came up snake eyes on that role. Qute: both the FBI and NSD — that’s National Security Division of the Justice Department — confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017, tweets, the filing read. That, of course, supports what then FBI Director James Comey told Congress also in March.

See the records we obtained where DOJ stated Trump’s claims were false here.

Trump civil rights official listed Clinton attacks as qualification on resume
Kimberly Hefling – August 31, 2017, Politico

Candice Jackson, who brought a group of women who had accused President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to a presidential debate last year between Trump and Hillary Clinton, listed that event as one of her “top five qualifications” for working in the administration….

POLITICO obtained the résumé from American Oversight, a watchdog group that acquired it using a Freedom of Information Act request. It’s not clear whether the document was submitted directly to the Education Department or by another means, such as to the Trump transition team.

See Candice Jackson’s resume here.

Here is the official résumé of the person Trump put in charge of federal housing in New York
Tracy Jan – August 18, 2017, The Washington Post

The person President Trump tapped this summer to oversee one of the largest regions under the Department of Housing & Urban Development is a longtime Trump family employee with no experience in housing, according to the one-page résumé Lynne Patton submitted as part of the transition.

Patton began working for Trump’s son Eric in 2009 as the vice president of his foundation and as his primary aide. She oversaw all aspects of his business, charity and personal obligations. That included his home and spousal responsibilities as well as coordinating events.

See Lynne Patton’s and other HUD resumes here.

Justice Department releases portion of Sessions security clearance form claiming no contacts with foreign officials
Ellen Nakashima – July 13, 2017, The New York Times

The Justice Department on Thursday released a single redacted page from Attorney General Jeff Session’s [sic] security clearance form from November that indicated he had not had any contact with a foreign government official in the past seven years.

That contradicts his later admission that he had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, twice last year. At the time, Sessions was a U.S. senator and an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The meetings occurred in July and September….

The watchdog group American Oversight, whose lawsuit forced the disclosure of the form, said that FBI investigators should have been told about the meetings. The group learned Thursday in court that the bureau did not turn up the information on its own.

See Attorney General Session’s SF-86 here.

Ethics group sues for Trump International Hotel records ahead of Republican Party fundraiser
Celeste Katz – June 28, 2017, Mic

Wednesday night’s big GOP dinner has President Donald Trump’s name all over it — and ethics watchdogs have a problem with that.

As Trump prepares to attend a major fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, American Oversight, a non-partisan accountability group, announced it’s suing “to force the release of communications between the Trump Organization and the government agency that manages the taxpayer-owned building.

American Oversight, which is run by Democratic former government officials, filed suit in federal court against the General Services Administration for information it requested, but didn’t get, under the Freedom of Information Act.

See our lawsuit against GSA regarding the Trump hotel lease here.

Group sues to access details of President Donald Trump’s border wall
Ryan Santistevan – June 16, 2017, Arizona Republic

Two years ago this week, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president and declared what would become a signature campaign promise: that he would “build a great wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A non-partisan ethics watchdog group is marking that anniversary with a lawsuit against multiple federal agencies seeking details about the proposed border wall.

American Oversight’s lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accuses the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protections, the Department of Interior and Office of Management and Budget of not responding to a dozen of its requests for information under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

See our Audit the Wall investigation and lawsuits here.

Homeland Security Hires Anti-Islam Activist Katharine Gorka as Trump Makes Overtures to Muslim States
Alex Emmons – May 23, 2017, The Intercept

Katharine Gorka, a controversial national security analyst and anti-Muslim activist, has been named as an “adviser” to the Department of Homeland Security’s policy office, after serving on President Trump’s transition team for the department. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Gorka extensively criticized DHS for teaching employees — wrongly, in her view — that Islam is a religion of peace.

Gorka’s appointment is listed in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the watchdog group American Oversight. Her title, as of April 7, is listed as adviser to the department’s office of policy. The documents also list a previous “temporary transitional” appointment in the chief of staff’s office, with a pay grade listed as GS-15, the highest standard pay for a federal civil servant, indicating a salary of at least $8,600 a month.

See DHS resumes we obtained, including Gorka’s resume here.

Trump’s Wiretap Tweets Bring Lawsuit Seeking Proof
Peter Overby – April 19, 2017, NPR

American Oversight is demanding records that support or disprove Trump’s March 4 tweet, “Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”

Austin Evers, the group’s director, told NPR, “We can get a straight, factual answer in the courts, by asking an unspinnable question: Do you have records to support the president’s tweets?”

See the records we obtained where DOJ stated Trump’s claims were false here.

Legal watchdog launches to hound Trump agencies
Donovan Slack – March 13, 2017, USA Today

Concerned by the shortage of government experience and early missteps by Trump administration officials —including President Trump — a group of lawyers is launching a watchdog organization that will seek to track the administration’s ethics and expose potential conflicts, fraud or other wrongdoing….

“We were very troubled to see in the wake of the election all the red flags going up about how this executive branch was going to be run, and how Congress was reacting, which was essentially to put its head in the sand or only act when really forced to do so over egregious matters,” said, Austin Evers, a State Department lawyer under Obama and now executive director of American Oversight.

See our complete set of documents and investigations here.