Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through public records requests in the last week:
Attacks on Election Rules
Earlier this month, a number of North Carolina elections officials reportedly received an email from a Trump campaign operative advising them to “not follow the procedures” of a new state rule regarding vote processing. We want to know whether similar instances have occurred in other states and filed records requests to counties in Florida, Georgia, Montana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin for communications with external entities regarding election operations.
Poll Watching and Law Enforcement
Reports about supporters of President Trump gearing up for aggressive poll-watching efforts have sparked concerns about potential voter intimidation on Election Day. During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in August, Trump said, “We’re going to have sheriffs and we’re going to have law enforcement.” We sent records requests to the offices of sheriffs with reported ties to Trump, and asked for election-related guidance or directives.
Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine Communications
Drug company Pfizer is one of the leading contenders in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, and had reportedly been in communication with the White House to express opposition to stricter standards for the potential vaccine’s emergency authorization. Pfizer recently adjusted its timeline, saying that the results of its vaccine trials likely won’t be ready until mid-November at the earliest. We filed FOIA requests with HHS for communications with Pfizer representatives regarding a Covid-19 vaccine.
Political Influence at SAMHSA
Former federal health officials raised serious concerns in September that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) appears to be under political pressure from the White House to echo administration talking points on school reopenings during the coronavirus pandemic. The concerns were raised after SAMHSA Administrator Elinore McCance-Katz said during a podcast interview, “What is this nonsense that somehow it’s unsafe to return to school?” We filed FOIA requests for McCance-Katz’s communications.
HHS Coronavirus Ad Campaigns
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded the communications group Fors Marsh a $250 million contract to “defeat despair and inspire hope” about the pandemic. Lawmakers have launched an investigation into the contract over questions about the political motivations behind the campaign. Contracts for similar morale-boosting campaigns were also awarded to the communications companies Atlas Research and DD&T (the latter is run by Den Tolmor, a former client of former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo). We filed FOIA requests with HHS and several of its subagencies for communications and guidance regarding these ad campaigns.
Federal Funding Cuts for Covid-19 Testing Sites
In April, FEMA announced it was ending federal funding for coronavirus testing sites under the Community-Based Testing Sites program, with the plan to transition the sites to local or state control. After receiving pushback from local officials, however, the transition was delayed until June. We filed FOIA requests with HHS for records regarding the transition of these testing sites, including communication and directives about the change.
Halt on Federal Diversity and Inclusion Trainings
On Sept. 4, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo, at Trump’s direction, ordering all federal agencies to cease sensitivity and diversity training. The memo described these trainings as using “divisive propaganda,” citing critical race theory as an example. A few weeks later, Trump issued an executive order that expanded this directive to include federal contractors and grantees. We filed FOIA requests to multiple agencies for directives and records regarding the cessation of these trainings.
Part of Investigation: