Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through public records requests in the last week:
Postal Service Sabotage: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced in a statement issued on Tuesday that he would pause the Postal Service’s cost-cutting initiatives until after the 2020 election. Some are worried that the controversial initiatives — including limiting mail routes, changing retail hours, and decreasing the number of collection boxes — are part of a Trump administration attempt to undermine the ability of voters to use mail-in ballots by decreasing post office operations. DeJoy, who was a lead fundraiser for the Republican National Convention up until he joined the Postal Service in June, is expected this Friday to testify on the changes. We filed FOIA requests with USPS for DeJoy’s email communications and for the resumes and ethics documents of all USPS employees who joined the agency in June.
Operation Warp Speed and the Administration’s Pandemic Response: Since late 2019, the coronavirus pandemic has sickened millions of people across the world, resulting in global economic destabilization and, more importantly, over 770,000 deaths. These dire circumstances should be met with international cooperation, government support for unemployed Americans, and protections for essential workers. Instead, the administration has moved to pull U.S. funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), while the Department of Labor narrowed worker protections and benefits. Operation Warp Speed is the administration’s Covid-19 effort meant to develop, review, and distribute vaccines, but the lack of transparency around the initiative has raised questions about its progress. We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies to learn more about Operation Warp Speed and external influence at the Labor Department. We also filed a request with the Office of Management and Budget to learn which federal entities are receiving funds previously allocated to the WHO.
Corporations Leverage Coronavirus Crisis: Meat industry plants have become hotbeds for Covid-19 transmission, giving the Department of Agriculture a key role in the Trump administration’s pandemic response. The head of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Delaware, Sean McKeon, previously worked as the director of communications at Mountaire Farms, one of the largest chicken producers in the country and which is owned by a top donor to Trump’s 2016 campaign. The company was also criticized recently for undermining workers’ rights efforts despite the many dangers that the coronavirus pandemic poses to meatpacking workers. We filed a FOIA request with USDA for records of communications between McKeon and Mountaire Farms.
Growing List of Cities Impacted by Operation Legend: In early July, Attorney General William Barr announced Operation Legend, an effort to send federal law enforcement officers to specific cities purportedly to assist state and local officials in fighting crime. Operation Legend was initially deployed to Kansas City, Mo., but Barr has since expanded the operation to Chicago and Albuquerque and has also announced intentions to further expand the effort to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Homeland Security for records regarding Operation Legend, including directives, violent-crime reduction strategies, and data of deployment numbers and arrests.
Financial Cost of Protest Suppression in Portland: The Trump administration’s alarming deployment of federal troops to Portland, Ore., to respond to the city’s racial justice protests drew criticism from legal experts, activists, and political leaders alike. Though Portland’s residents and local officials voiced their opposition to the deployment, it was weeks after federal officials initially arrived before the agencies tentatively agreed to withdraw from the city. We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies for records reflecting the costs of sending federal agents to Portland.
Foreign Interference in Racial Justice Demonstrations: During a June 4 press conference addressing nationwide protests, Barr said, “We have evidence that some of the foreign hackers and groups that are associated with foreign governments are focusing in on this particular situation” and that they are “playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.” Reports also show that social media accounts with ties to the governments of Russia and China (such as Chinese ambassadors and Russian-backed news outlets) have been posting divisive content about the demonstrations. We filed a FOIA request with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center to learn more about how the Trump administration is responding to potential foreign interference in these protests.
Russian Bounty Intelligence Briefings: In June, the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded months earlier that a Russian military unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan, including U.S. troops. Subsequent reporting indicated that the intelligence community briefed Trump on their assessment in February, though Trump has claimed that such evidence of Russian-backed bounties “never reached [his] desk.” We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies for records related to the government’s handling of intelligence about the alleged Russian payments to Taliban-linked militants, including dissent memos, press communications, and talking points.
Republican Activists Help Kanye West Run for President: Artist and rapper Kanye West, who first announced his presidential run in July, has filed to be a presidential candidate in several states that are expected to play important roles in deciding the upcoming election. It’s since been reported that Republican activists, including individuals who have worked for the Trump campaign, are aiding West’s effort. In particular, Vice reported that longtime Republican operative Rachel George was part of the successful effort to put West on the ballot in Colorado by soliciting help from her connections in the state. We filed a records request with the Colorado attorney general’s office for communications regarding George and West.
Lawsuit for Federal Student Aid Performance Agreements: Every year, the Education Department is required to evaluate the Federal Student Aid (FSA) chief operating officer’s work through performance agreements and make those agreements publicly available. Over the past few years, the agency hasn’t posted the records online, and on Monday, we partnered with Student Defense and sued the Education Department to compel the release of these performance agreements.
Part of Investigation: