Wednesday’s Senate vote to acquit President Donald Trump of impeachment charges appears to have been interpreted by the White House as a signal that it need not fear consequences for its corruption and criminal activity.
That this vote came less than 24 hours after American Oversight received another set of Ukraine-related documents that had not been seen by the public is yet another reminder of the Senate’s failure to conduct a fair trial. And whether those 52 senators who signaled to Trump that he could use the powers of his office to pressure a foreign country to interfere in our elections — and in the process reject constitutional checks and balances — voted out of indifference, self-interest, or fear, the result will likely be a president whose abuses of power and acts of self-enrichment are more brazen and more illustrative of his disdain for the rule of law.
His allies in Congress and the administration have already been acting with such a sense of impunity. On Thursday, Yahoo News reported that the Treasury Department has complied with the requests of Sens. Lindsey Graham, Charles Grassley and Ron Johnson for financial records about Hunter Biden, a marked contrast to the administration’s years-long stonewalling of other congressional requests. Meanwhile, as Trump delivered a rambling and at times threatening press conference the day after the acquittal, Bloomberg reported that the White House is weighing a plan to dismiss Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, from the National Security Council. By Friday afternoon, it was reported he had been escorted out of the White House.
But while the vote signaled that the Senate would not be a check on the president’s corruption, the past four months of the impeachment investigation have sent a powerful message to everyone else: Aggressive oversight works. The House’s investigation stopped Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign in its tracks. And documents obtained by American Oversight through Freedom of Information Act litigation have, and will continue to do so, brought to light new information about the efforts of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others.
Additional document productions in our lawsuits against the Departments of Energy, State and Defense are scheduled to be released over the next two weeks. On Thursday, we filed another lawsuit against the State Department for records related to Vice President Mike Pence’s involvement in the Ukraine campaign. We also filed a FOIA request for any reports or records that Giuliani sent to the Justice Department after his December trip to Kyiv and Budapest in search of “more information” about the Bidens. “I can’t tell you if I did or didn’t do something with the Justice Department,” Giuliani told NPR this week.
And of course, Ukraine isn’t the sum of this administration’s misconduct and corruption. We’re still investigating Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant agenda, voter suppression in the states, and attempts to undermine health-care access, not to mention the Trump family’s continuing habit of profiting off the presidency and other foreign-policy dealings like the investigation of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank.
More questions remain. More answers are coming. Read on:
Detention Center Conditions: NPR obtained hundreds of complaints filed by migrants at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Adelanto processing center, including reports of harassment and use of force against detainees. Surveillance footage obtained by NPR shows detention officers pepper-spraying and pushing a group of men who were insisting on speaking with officials about poor treatment. American Oversight has been investigating the conditions in often-overcrowded migrant detention centers, including those run by private contractors, such as the for-profit GEO Group–operated Adelanto center.
McCabe Grand Jury Mystery: Do you know what happened during former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s grand jury meeting? We don’t either. In 2018, a Justice Department inspector general report said McCabe had inappropriately disclosed unauthorized information to the press, spurring a series of legal proceedings and online attacks from the president. Many expected an indictment to follow after a federal grand jury meeting in September, but it never came, and reporters and observers aren’t sure why. We’re asking the Justice Department for records that can shed light on the grand jury investigation, including department officials’ communications.
Trump’s Non-Disclosure Agreements: While non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) protecting classified information aren’t uncommon, Trump has made his staff sign strict agreements that threaten employees’ ability to speak out on a wider range of issues, even years after finishing federal service. Concerns first surfaced during the 2016 presidential election when then-candidate Trump revealed in a Washington Post interview that federal employees would have to sign his NDAs despite his acknowledgment of free-speech conflicts. More recently, the Justice Department used Trump’s NDAs to warn an anonymous former official against the release of a book. We’re asking the department for copies of NDAs unrelated to classified information, as well as NDAs signed by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
U.S. Ambassador Silences Speech at NATO Conference: Stanley Sloan, a college professor and former CIA analyst, was expected to deliver a keynote speech at a December conference in Copenhagen celebrating NATO’s 70th anniversary when the event was suddenly canceled after pressure from the U.S. ambassador to Denmark. A representative of the Danish think tank co-hosting the conference said they canceled after the U.S. embassy, another co-host, “vetoed” Sloan’s speech because of social media posts criticizing Trump. The U.S. embassy claims Sloan’s participation didn’t follow normal planning procedures. We filed requests for U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands’s emails about the conference, as well as emails between any U.S. embassy staff and the think tank hosting the event.
Immigration Judge Turnover: The Justice Department’s backlog of immigration cases now exceeds 1 million, but U.S. immigration judges keep leaving their posts. Despite a record number of judges, the agency is experiencing an unusually high turnover rate and news reports suggest that the administration’s extreme anti-immigration policies — what one former immigration judge called a “toxic environment” — and the agency’s labor practices are contributing to attrition. We’re seeking records about how the Justice Department is handling staffing concerns, including the job applications of recently appointed judges and emails sent by specific judges who have since resigned.
State Accountability Project: We’re still investigating how Georgia’s officials are preparing for election season, from voting machine security to polling place locations. This week, we filed requests to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office for details about the recent cancellation of approximately 300,000 voter registrations, and for communications about restoration of around 22,000 of those registrations. We’re also seeking complaints submitted to the Secretary of State Elections Division as well as emails sent by Georgia election officials about voter language assistance. And in Florida, we filed a request for the state’s 2020 voter registration system maintenance schedule.
The Grift Continues: On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Secret Service has paid as much as $650 for rooms at Trump properties while on duty to protect the president — a contradiction of administration claims that taxpayers only foot minimal charges. And according to the article, “the Secret Service was charged $17,000 a month to use a three-bedroom cottage” at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in 2017, “an unusually high rent for homes in that area.” Back in November, Politico reported the agency had spent more than $250,000 at Trump properties during a 5-month time period in 2017. We have a number of outstanding FOIA requests across the federal government for records related to taxpayer dollars being spent boosting the president’s business.
Part of Investigation: