New FOIAs Round-Up: Heritage Foundation Influence, Harley Davidson, and Conspiracy Theories at the VA

American Oversight has submitted over 1,000 FOIAs to hold the Trump administration accountable. What we’ve uncovered has exposed Ben Carson’s family involvement at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and helped shed light on former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s many ethical scandals that led to his eventual resignation.

But we know these stories are only just the beginning and that there’s likely more going on behind the scenes. American Oversight is going to continue submitting FOIAs and filing lawsuits as long as there’s corruption in the administration.

FOIAs to Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and New York City to Shed Light on HUD Family Involvement

Over the past year, American Oversight obtained HUD emails and other records that revealed that Secretary Carson’s son, wife, and daughter-in-law had been inappropriately involved at the agency. Ben Carson’s son, Ben Carson Jr, helped to coordinate a listening tour in Baltimore, using his father’s influence to obtain contacts and set up meetings. Carson’s daughter-in-law’s company also received a no-bid half a million-dollar contract from a different Trump administration agency. We submitted FOIAs to get answers.

Within the past few weeks, we expanded our investigation and submitted FOIAs to find out even more about the Carson family influence on the department. We filed public records requests with the  Pennsylvania School District and the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office seeking communications with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Benjamin Carson Jr., or Merlynn Carson. We also asked Baltimore City Housing and the New York City Housing Authority for similar communications to determine if HUD resources are being used for the Carson family’s private benefit.

American Oversight also sent a separate FOIA to HUD asking for communications with a variety of outside entities, including construction and development companies to determine how private interests are influencing policy and operations at HUD.

See our full investigation into the Carson’s family’s involvement at HUD and Ben Carson’s leadership.

Heritage Foundation Influence in the Administration:

It’s not a secret that the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, has been deeply influential in the Trump administration. Former Heritage employees have been appointed to senior positions across the government, and the Trump administration’s government reorganization plan appears to be heavily influenced by Heritage-based proposals.  

Calendars we obtained for one of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s senior aides show that Zinke met with leaders from Heritage to discuss the reorganization effort.

American Oversight submitted a FOIA to OMB seeking communications with the Heritage Foundation and the Foundation for Government Accountability regarding government reorganization. We want to find out how closely the Trump administration has been coordinating with Heritage officials to guide policy-making.

EPA’s Pro-Chemical Industry Agenda Continues:

Since the beginning of the administration, the EPA has been working to loosen chemical safety and environmental regulations and favor industry-friendly policy. American Oversight has obtained calendars that show former administrator Pruitt meeting with industry lobbyists and we’ve been investigating the EPA’s chemical industry agenda.

Along with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), American Oversight submitted a FOIA to EPA seeking information to determine the extent to which industry and trade groups, and others with a stake in these rules — including investor Carl Icahn — may have engaged with former Administrator Scott Pruitt and the EPA about the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Trump’s Threats Against Harley Davidson

Following changes to the Trump administration’s trade policy, Wisconsin-based motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson announced that it would be moving at least some manufacturing jobs overseas. President Trump has threatened to retaliate against the American company. American Oversight submitted a series of FOIAs to shed light on the situation and whether or not the president’s threats are shaping the administration’s trade policies.

Supreme Court Nominee Influences:

Following the announcement of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, American Oversight submitted FOIAs to DOJ seeking communications with Leonard Leo, John Malcolm, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Michael Lee, or any of the nine current Justices serving on the Supreme Court. We’re also looking for any evidence that Kavanaugh’s nomination may have emerged from a purported list of potential replacements proposed by Justice Kennedy.

Trump Influence Overseas to Benefit Family Businesses:

We know that President Trump has been profiting off the presidency from the very beginning. The president’s daughter and son-in-law have also continued to profit from their private businesses while serving in senior government positions, setting up serious conflicts of interest.

We submitted FOIAs to the State Department to find out whether or not President Trump is using his influence to advance his and his family members’ business interests overseas.

See our complete Defund Trump investigation into the ways in which the president profits off his position.

New EPA Administrator Wheeler:

Scott Pruitt may be out of office following a series of ethical scandals but we’re not going to stop keeping an eye on the EPA and the agency’s new administrator.

We want to know if the new administrator, Andrew Wheeler, will continue favoring the chemical industry just as Pruitt did and we’re asking EPA for communications between Wheeler and the Heritage Foundation, the American Petroleum Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

We’re also seeking communications between Wheeler and Congress and various energy industry groups, as well as his calendars in order to assess his priorities as administrator.

Given his former employment  as a lobbyist for the coal industry, we’re also asking for any recusal determinations made or issued for Wheeler and records of any conflicts or ethics waivers or authorizations he may have received.

Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Muslim Social Posts at the VA

Citing documents uncovered by American Oversight, CNN reported that a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appointee, Thayer Verschoor, posted anti-Muslim and conspiracy theories on his Facebook page. We submitted a FOIA to find out if his anti-immigrant views may be impacting his work at VA.