Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through public records requests in the last week:
New Lawsuit for Records of Complaints Against Barr: Today, we sued the Justice Department for records of complaints filed with the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility concerning Barr’s professional conduct. We requested these records back in July, as more and more legal experts and former officials were calling for investigations into his actions and even for his resignation.
Suspension of Work Visas: In June, President Donald Trump announced the suspension of employment-based visas and barred the entrance of hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals seeking work in the United States. The unclear and inconsistent implementation of the suspension has resulted in panic for many U.S.- based workers and their families. The ban has also had negative effects on the medical and technology industries. We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies for records regarding the visa suspension, including any analyses, directives, and communications. We also filed requests for directives related to any family separations resulting from the visa suspension.
Excluding International Students from Higher Education Covid-19 Aid: In April, the Department of Education issued a rule that, by limiting Covid-19 relief assistance to students who qualify to apply for federal financial aid, effectively excludes undocumented and international students from receiving help from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Education for communications concerning the exclusion, including emails with White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, whose influence on immigration policy is far-reaching.
Airline Industry Influence on Pandemic Relief Funds: In March, the Hill newspaper reported that airline CEOs and industry groups went on a “lobbying blitz” in order to secure bailouts and tax relief to weather the economic downturn. Since then, further reporting has revealed that two recipients of this aid (both private jet companies) are headed by individuals who made large donations to the Trump campaign, and members of Congress are asking questions about how the Treasury Department distributed funds meant to save aviation jobs. Meanwhile, the airline industry is poised to implement major furloughs in the upcoming weeks despite receiving billions in taxpayer money. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Transportation and the Treasury Department for communications with industry representatives, and sent a FOIA request to the Treasury for communications with prominent donors to the Trump campaign or affiliated PACs.
HHS Covid-19 Database NDA: Earlier this month, a law firm representing TeleTracking Technologies stated that the company was bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services that prevents the company from answering certain questions (in this case, questions submitted by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray) related to its $10.2 million contract to manage the administration’s new coronavirus database. We filed a FOIA request with HHS for a copy of the non-disclosure agreement.
Trump’s Election-Postponement Tweet: On July 30, Trump posted a tweet that implied the 2020 presidential election should be postponed, prompting widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum. Following the tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that he would defer to the Justice Department to decide whether the president has the authority to delay the upcoming presidential election (he does not have that power). We filed FOIA requests with the Justice Department for records related to the tweet, including any legal analyses regarding postponing the November election.
USPS Board’s Ethics Waivers and Communications: In recent weeks, the U.S. Postal Service has been a major subject of the country’s conversation on election security and voter suppression. The Trump administration has shown an interest in dismantling the USPS for some time, but Trump’s recent attacks on mail-in ballots — not to mention his own admission that withholding USPS funding will mean “you can’t have universal mail-in voting” — have raised serious concerns that the sabotage of the Post Office will also sabotage the election. We filed FOIA requests for the ethics waivers and select communications of members of the USPS Board of Governors, as well as for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s text messages concerning agency business.
U.S. Attorney John Bash: In May, Attorney General William Barr tapped John Bash, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, to investigate the intelligence community’s “unmasking” practices, in which the identity of an individual on a communication obtained through intelligence is revealed. The broad scope of Bash’s investigation, along with the Justice Department’s investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe, has raised further concerns about the politicization of the department under Barr. We filed FOIA requests with the department for directives related to the investigation, as well as for Bash’s related communications.
Trump Associates’ Prison Releases: In May, the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and political consultant W. Samuel Patten were released from prison to serve their sentences (all for crimes related to the 2016 campaign or Trump’s inauguration) outside of jail, where the spread of Covid-19 has been devastating. Though a few institutions have responded to the pandemic by releasing frail inmates, advocates are criticizing the fact that authorities are not granting most inmates the same flexibility given to Cohen, Manafort, and Patten. We filed FOIA requests with the Justice Department for directives and communications relating to Cohen, Manafort, and Patten’s releases.
Part of Investigation: