Here’s a look at the investigations our team has been pursuing through records requests in the last week:
White House Covid-19 Outbreak and Presidential Succession
On Monday, President Donald Trump returned to the White House following three nights at the Walter Reed Medical Center after contracting Covid-19. Numerous high-ranking government officials have also tested positive, and some who are in the constitutional line of succession were likely at risk while attending recent White House events. Despite these developments, there is still significant public uncertainty over the administration’s view of the proper line of presidential succession. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Justice for communications and guidance regarding presidential succession. We also filed requests to the U.S. Secret Service and Walter Reed for records of safety procedures enacted to protect the health of the president and federal employees during his treatment at the hospital.
Forced Sterilization in ICE Detention Facilities
In early September, a registered nurse who worked at a Georgia immigration detention center blew the whistle on abusive practices taking place at the facility. Disturbing reports emerged that medical staff had forced detainees to undergo unwanted hysterectomies. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for records concerning these reported practices, including medical inspection reports and data records.
Deportations of Children Without Guardians
Among other severe immigration policies, the Trump administration has deported hundreds of unaccompanied minors since the coronavirus outbreak began, many of whom have no safe place to which to return in their home countries. Administration officials claim these expulsions are meant to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but reporting has revealed that migrant children testing negative are being sent away. We filed FOIA requests with multiple agencies for records concerning these deportations, and for the communications of Heidi Stirrup, the acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Naturalization Policy and RNC Ceremony
Processing times for naturalization applications have reached a new high, averaging 8.8 months in 2020. The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus has exacerbated the situation by shutting down immigration offices and postponing immigration interviews without any apparent plan to handle the resulting backlog of applications. Even still, the Republican National Convention decided to air a naturalization ceremony at the White House during its August broadcast. Subsequent reporting revealed that participants in that ceremony didn’t know they were appearing at the convention. We filed FOIA requests for communications concerning the administration’s naturalization policies, as well as for legal analyses regarding the naturalization ceremony shown at the RNC.
USPS Policy Change on Ballot Witness Signatures
In July, the Postal Service changed its policy of allowing postal workers to witness ballot signatures while on duty, potentially making it difficult for voters living in rural areas to meet their state’s voting-by-mail witness requirements. The change was made without a public announcement, and the agency has since claimed that the policy shift was due to “potential operational impacts.” We filed FOIA requests with USPS for records about the policy change, including impact assessments on operations, complaints, and related communications.
State-Level Preparations for the 2020 Presidential Election
American Oversight continues to investigate threats to democracy on the state level and potential federal interference in election operations. We filed the following state-related requests over the past week:
Part of Investigation: