Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through records requests in the last week:
Federal Coronavirus Response Whistleblower Complaints: In April, following his dismissal as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Rick Bright published a statement that alleged the move was retaliation for his questioning of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment and that the White House was “politicizing science.” Reports have indicated that as of early May, 31 whistleblower disclosures concerning the administration’s handling of the coronavirus had been filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). We filed FOIA requests with OSC and the HHS Inspector General for whistleblower complaints related to misconduct in the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We also filed FOIA requests with the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense for all coronavirus-related briefings and situation reports prepared for officials involved in the Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force.
Coronavirus Relief Funds Funneled to DeVos’s Preferred Schools: In May, the New York Times reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos redirected millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds for public schools and colleges to support operations at private and religious schools. We filed a FOIA request with the Department of Education for communications with specific education groups that lobbied for coronavirus-relief funding.
Pompeo’s RNC Speech: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced widespread criticism and accusations of Hatch Act violations for giving a pre-recorded speech at the Republican National Convention — with the video having been taken while he was on an official trip to Jerusalem — a break from longstanding norms. The RNC appearance came on the heels of Pompeo having approved a department policy prohibiting Senate-confirmed appointees from attending political party conventions. Since then, the State Department has defended the speech, saying that Pompeo was acting in his personal capacity and did not use government resources, and that multiple lawyers reviewed and approved the decision. We filed FOIA requests with the State Department for any legal analyses, ethics complaints about the speech, or records of associated expenses.
DeJoy’s Communications with Outside Groups: On Monday, House Democrats announced an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for potential violations of campaign-finance laws. According to the Washington Post, DeJoy — who prior to his appointment ran a logistics company and was a major Republican donor — reimbursed employees for making campaign contributions to his preferred politicians. We filed FOIA requests with the U.S. Postal Service for DeJoy’s calendar entries and communications with non-government entities.
Chad Wolf’s July Portland Trip: Saturday marked 100 consecutive days of racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., initially sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Tensions continue to escalate at demonstrations in the city, and last week Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf issued a warning that if local officials don’t put an end to the protests soon, “the federal government will have no choice” but to get involved (again). We filed a FOIA request for expenses incurred during Wolf’s controversial trip to Portland in July.
Johnson’s Communications with DOJ: In early August, Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, subpoenaed FBI records as part of his investigation into the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Johnson also stated in an interview on Aug. 12 that he’s had “a number of meetings” with Attorney General William Barr. We filed a FOIA request with the Justice Department for communications with Johnson or his staff.
McConnell’s Influence at USTR and SBA: Records we previously obtained from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) indicate that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office contacted senior agency officials to request consideration for Kentucky businesses during ongoing trade negotiations and policy rollouts. We filed FOIA requests with USTR and the Small Business Administration for agency officials’ communications with McConnell’s office.
Kentucky Ballot Integrity Task Force Records and Communications: In May, Kentucky’s attorney general and secretary of state formed a Ballot Integrity Task Force, one of many such groups to pop up in states across the country, purportedly to monitor voting fraud. We filed records requests with several Kentucky agencies for records relating to the task force, including communications, procedures, agendas, transcripts, and reports.
Rose Garden Redesign Costs: In July, First Lady Melania Trump announced a redesign of the White House Rose Garden with financial support from the National Park Service and private donations. The renovated garden was unveiled at the end of August, but reports have since emerged that it’s already crumbling and is now under repair. We filed a FOIA request with the park service for records concerning the donations gifted for the redesign.
Part of Investigation: