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 Pompeo’s Military Housing: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is at the center of an alarmingly long list of allegations of misconduct, including those related to his and his family’s potential misuse of official resources to serve his personal interests and political ambitions. Last week, we sued the Trump administration for records related to another potentially controversial use of taxpayer money — the secretary’s arrangement to live in military housing.
Getting to the Bottom of State Inspector General Firing: In recent months, Trump has removed or replaced inspectors general across the federal government in what the Washington Post has called a “slow-motion Friday night massacre of inspectors general.” Among these removals is former State Inspector General Steve Linick, who was reportedly looking into allegations of misconduct by Secretary Pompeo at the time of Linick’s removal. (See the whistleblower complaint we obtained this past week that alleges top officials allowed Pompeo’s wrongdoing to continue.) Last week, we filed FOIA requests with the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency for records concerning Linick’s firing.
Investigating the Federal Occupation of U.S. Cities: Our investigation into governments’ aggressive responses to this summer’s nationwide racial justice protests has now expanded to include the recent disturbing actions of federal agents in Portland, Ore. According to reports, federal law enforcement agents have been seizing protesters and denying them due process, driving in unmarked vehicles and failing to identify themselves. On Monday, President Donald Trump threatened to deploy officers to additional cities, and sources told CNN that the administration was preparing to send them to Chicago later this week. We filed FOIA requests to multiple federal agencies for communications regarding the Portland protests and records reflecting use-of-force guidelines or deployment orders.
Surveillance Companies and Covid-19: Technology companies have responded to the coronavirus pandemic by offering surveillance services to federal and local governments to track the spread of Covid-19, but these efforts have raised questions about data collection and health privacy. We filed FOIA requests with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs for communications and guidance related to such collaboration. We’re also seeking similar communications in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas.
The Disappearance (and Reappearance) of CDC Hospital Data: Last week, HHS announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would no longer collect data about Covid-19 hospitalizations and equipment needs, instead directing hospitals to report the information to HHS. Shortly after the announcement, the CDC briefly removed live hospital capacity data from its website, restoring it on Thursday with a notice that the data would no longer be updated after July 14. And on Monday, HHS unveiled a new website with the information. We filed a FOIA request to HHS for the CDC’s hospital capacity data that had previously been public.
Republican Convention Pandemic Planning: On Monday, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said he has “significant” public health concerns about the Republican National Convention planned for next month. Williams raised his concerns even after announcements last week that Republicans plan to scale back the convention, potentially holding events outdoors. We filed records requests with the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Office of the Governor, and the Jacksonville Mayor’s Office to learn more about how the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are preparing for the event with local officials.
Pence’s Wisconsin Visit: In late June, Vice President Mike Pence visited Waukesha County, Wis., to campaign for Trump’s reelection and to discuss faith and education at a roundtable with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. At the time, county health officials were recommending that people avoid gatherings of more than 100 people, and earlier this month it was reported that Wisconsin had the fastest-growing infection rate in the country. We asked Waukesha County officials for records (including assessments and communications) about Pence’s June visit.
Paycheck Protection Program Communications: As small businesses struggle under the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the money in the Paycheck Protection Program has been funneled to private-equity-backed companies. We filed FOIA requests for the calendars and communications of Justin Muzinich, the deputy secretary of the Treasury who was tasked to the Small Business Administration to help with the Paycheck Protection Program, and for his communications with White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.
NDA Offered to Cohen: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in support of Trump’s 2016 election, sued the Justice Department on Monday for his immediate release from prison, to continue serving his sentence at home. According to reports, Cohen was returned to jail from medical furlough after refusing to sign a document that barred him from publishing books or talking to the press for the duration of his sentence. Cohen’s lawyers claim that his return to jail is retaliation for drafting a book about the president. We filed a FOIA request with the Justice Department for the agreement Cohen reportedly refused to sign.
Chao and McConnell Kentucky Favoritism: Last year, documents uncovered by American Oversight revealed that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s office had created a “special path” to process and assist with Kentucky projects, including those favored by her spouse, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Coordination between their offices reportedly helped move along a $67.4 million grant application for a project in Boone County, Ky. We filed FOIA requests with the Transportation Department for records concerning the grant, and for communications with McConnell’s staff.
Part of Investigation: