New FOIAs: Gun Control, Industry Influences, and Sanctuary Cities

American Oversight has recently filed a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to uncover documents related to issues from gun violence to sanctuary cities. For almost a full year, American Oversight has used FOIA as a tool to force accountability, and we’ve filed 143 requests so far in 2018. With Sunshine Week–a week dedicated to transparency and government accountability–just around the corner, we’re going to continue to file requests and lawsuits to hold the Trump administration accountable.

Steel and Aluminum Tariffs:

Both Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have had business or financial ties to the steel industry – so after President Trump announced that the U.S. would be imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, we submitted a series of FOIAs to find out if the administration coordinated with industry lobbyists. We sent FOIAs to USTR and Commerce seeking communications between political appointees at those agencies and various members of the steel industry to find out if either Lighthizer or Ross used their current positions to benefit themselves or their former business associates.

Gun Lobby Influence on Gun Control:

Although it might seem as if the gun lobby goes quiet following a mass shooting, organizations like the NRA work behind the scenes to block action on guns and connect with political officials. We previously obtained records from Texas following the November 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting where the NRA sent talking points to officials in the governor’s office less than 8 hours after the shooting ended.  

Following recent events in Florida, we wanted to know if this type of lobbying occured following other gun-related tragedies. We submitted information requests to several states asking for records of gun lobby communications after mass shootings, including requests to Florida’s attorney general and governor’s offices seeking communications, calendar entries, and talking points following the Parkland shooting. These records will shed light on whether or not Florida officials have been in contact with the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

Corruption Continues at HUD:

American Oversight submitted new FOIAs to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) following recent controversy surrounding Secretary Carson’s leadership, his family’s involvement in the department, and his expensive redecoration plans. The Guardian reported that a HUD employee was demoted after refusing to comply with these plans and for questioning why FOIAs related to Lynne Patton, the former Trump employee turned HUD senior official, and Ben Carson Jr were being handled differently than other HUD FOIAs.

Following these reports, we submitted FOIAs asking for details about the demotion of the employee and the processing of FOIAs related to the Carson and Trump families.

Emails we obtained also revealed Secretary Ben Carson’s family’s extensive influence in the department, particularly that of his son and daughter-in-law. We also submitted FOIAs to find out why Ben Carson’s daughter-in-law’s company was given a half million dollar contract by another government agency–and whether or not her affiliation with the HUD Secretary had any influence on that award.

Jared Kushner’s Security Clearance:

Since nearly the first day of the Trump administration, there have been repeated reports that Jared Kushner has had to amend and resubmit his security clearance application after omitting what feels like an endless series of complex financial transactions, debts, foreign business associates, and other potentially disqualifying information. While Kushner’s interim security clearance has apparently been downgraded to Secret from Top Secret, the fact that he was allowed to continue working for more than a year – despite not passing the full background check – has raised questions about how the White House handles classified information.

Security clearance applications are generally classified and can’t be released in FOIA — but the same does not hold true for the signature pages of those applications. Those pages contain no secret or personal information, but they do reveal the exact date that the applicant submitted (or in Kushner’s case, re-submitted, and re-submitted, and re-submitted) the application form.

Last year, we successfully forced the Department of Justice to turn over Attorney General Sessions’ clearance application signature page – so we’ve now submitted new FOIA requests asking for Kushner’s  signature page from his application — and the many revisions.

Are Jeff Sessions and Rick Scott Coordinating to Undermine Sanctuary Cities?

In August 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a conference in Miami where he praised the mayor for reversing sanctuary city policies and increasing cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officials. In the months that followed, Florida’s legislature passed legislation to ban sanctuary cities, and the rate of enforcement actions by federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased significantly. American Oversight has submitted FOIA requests to DOJ to determine whether Attorney General Sessions and Florida Governor Rick Scott have been coordinating their actions to undermine sanctuary cities and increase targeting of undocumented immigrants in the state – potentially using Florida as a testing ground for nationwide efforts.

Pruitt’s Security Guard’s Side Business:

On December 18, 2017, the Associated Press reported that the EPA paid $3,000 to Edwin Steinmetz Associates to conduct a “sweep for covert/illegal surveillance devices” in administrator Scott Pruitt’s office. Government contracting records revealed that Steinmetz was also hired by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to conduct a similar security survey. In addition to running his own security consulting firm, Edwin Steinmetz is a member of the management team at Sequoia Security Group, a company at which the head of Scott Pruitt’s security detail, Nino Perrotta, serves as one of the principals. We are seeking to shed light on whether Perrotta used position to steer the EPA and NRC contracts to his business associate.