Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through public records requests in the last week:
New Lawsuit for Information on Covid-19 Supply Chain Task Force and Federal Seizure of Medical Equipment: As the death toll from the coronavirus mounts, the United States’ devastating shortage of personal protective equipment and medical supplies has led to fierce competition among states, as well as alarming reports of federal agencies interfering with medical equipment orders from states and hospitals — sometimes outright seizing crates of supplies. Jared Kushner’s team of volunteers working on supply chain issues has also drawn scrutiny, especially after reports that it was using “VIP” lists of supply-acquisition tips to prioritize suppliers that were suggested by Trump’s political allies. On Tuesday, we sued the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense for information about federal interference in supply orders and about whether “VIPs” are influencing the supply chain task force’s decisions. We also filed new requests with both agencies for specific protocols regarding bidding against state or local governments for medical supplies.
Texas Covid-19 Outbreak in Rio Grande Valley: The coronavirus pandemic is devastating low-income Hispanic communities in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. At the same time, rescue crews and local officials are struggling to respond to the public health crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna, which brought high winds, floods, and power outages to the area in late July. We filed records requests with multiple state and local government entities in Texas for information on how officials are handling the coronavirus outbreak in the Rio Grande Valley. We also asked for local government communications with hospitals, state officials, and federal agencies in light of controversies surrounding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s inconsistent response to the outbreak.
Operation Legend Expands: In July, the Trump administration announced the controversial Operation Legend, which sent federal law enforcement to certain cities purportedly to help state and local officials fight crime. After an initial deployment to Kansas City, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump announced plans to expand the operation to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. We filed FOIA requests with multiple federal agencies for directives and guidance regarding Operation Legend’s strategies to reduce violent crime.
Federal Use-of-Force Directives and Protester Surveillance: American Oversight continues to investigate the federal government’s outsized and aggressive response to nationwide racial justice protests, including reports that some federal agencies have conducted or have been authorized to conduct surveillance related to those demonstrations. We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies for any interagency agreements to share data on protesters, as well as for directives regarding the use of force and law enforcement self-identification. And as both Barr and Trump have sought to delegitimize the protests by claiming they’re the work of violent outside agitators, we filed a request for any assessments of outside entities having exploited the demonstrations.
Justice Department’s Actions in Opioid Case Against Walmart: On March 25, ProPublica reported that federal prosecutors in Texas sought to sue Walmart over alleged misconduct in its opioid distribution practices, but that top Justice Department officials prevented the criminal charges from moving forward. Two months later*, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Joe Brown (who had been leading the team attempting to sue Walmart and was quoted in ProPublica’s reporting) announced his resignation. Brown, seemingly ousted by Barr, was subsequently replaced by former Deputy Associate Attorney General Stephen Cox. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Justice for communications regarding Brown’s departure and for records regarding the decision not to prosecute Walmart. We also sent a request to the Texas attorney general for information about prosecutor assignments.
The Regulator Becomes the Regulated: In April, Swiss bank UBS hired Jeb Hensarling, the former Texas congressman who was deeply involved in financial-sector policy and had served as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. We filed FOIA requests to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of the Treasury to shed light on Hensarling’s communications, if any, with federal financial regulators.
North Carolina Gerrymandering Lawsuit Spending: In January, it was reported that North Carolina’s taxpayers would foot an extra $100,000 related to a lawsuit over gerrymandered electoral maps, a lawsuit the state lost in 2019. We partnered with the League of Women Voters and filed records requests with the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office for records of spending to defend the state in several redistricting-related lawsuits.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Brown resigned the next day. The ProPublica report was March 25; Brown resigned on May 26. We regret the error.
Part of Investigation: