News Roundup: Beyond Impeachment — The Investigations Continue

On Wednesday night, the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

The obstruction charge, which was the second article of impeachment, passed 229 to 198 and involved the Trump White House’s refusal to comply with Congress’s legitimate and constitutional oversight powers. Those powers are essential to our system of checks and balances, and are what separate us from a monarchy or a dictatorship.

But the White House has directed agencies to engage in a strategy of total obstruction, and those agencies have effectively acknowledged that they have no legal basis for withholding requested records from Congress. We of course know this because we were able to get records through the Freedom of Information Act. You can read more about how Trump has clearly met the standard for obstruction of Congress here.

Meanwhile, more evidence of Trump’s abuse of power — the first article of impeachment, which passed 230 to 197 — will likely continue to come out. We have a number of Ukraine-related lawsuits against the administration, and are expecting more documents in early January. We’ve also been filing more FOIA requests, including for records related to the reported White House Counsel’s Office review of documents that could be subject to public records requests. We also filed a request for more communications between the State Department and Rudy Giuliani or his associates, given Giuliani’s latest efforts in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

And of course, there’s plenty else to investigate in the Trump administration as we approach the end of 2019. Read on:

Embassy Communications about Trump Properties: Just three months into his presidency, multiple U.S. embassies had shared an article promoting Mar-a-Lago. We filed a new lawsuit this week for ambassadors’ or embassy officials’ communications about Trump Organization properties in their host countries. The lawsuit includes 12 countries, including the U.K. (home of Turnberry, where Air Force crews had stayed for days at a time) and Ireland (home of Trump’s Doonbeg hotel, where Vice President Mike Pence stayed during an official trip in early September).

DOJ Inspector General Report: Shortly after the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its report on its review of FBI surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign, which said there was “sufficient predicate” for the investigation, U.S. Attorney John Durham issued a statement saying that “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions.” Durham is heading the Justice Department’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, and his statement, which doesn’t conform with general DOJ practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, raises concerns about its possible political motivations. We’re asking for related communications

Detention Center Conditions: ProPublica reported in early December on video footage they obtained that showed that the Border Patrol held a seriously ill teenage boy in a small concrete holding cell, where he passed away after not receiving proper medical attention. The video, which doesn’t match the Border Patrol’s official account, raises serious questions about conditions in overcrowded detention centers — we filed a series of requests for videos from facilities run by Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as HHS facilities for migrant children.

Detainee Medical Care: When individuals held in ICE detention need off-site medical care, the agency uses a process known as Medical Payment Authorization Request, or MedPAR, that requires on-site facility providers to certify that a patient has a “serious medical need” and enter it into the MedPar system. Then, ICE staff decide whether to approve the request, relying only on the reviewer’s “professional judgment.” A 2016 government report on the system said that it lacked “specific written clinical guidance on which to base approval decisions.” The consequences of inadequate review can, of course, be tragic; in 2015, someone died in part because of inaccurate and untimely MedPAR processing.

ICE’s Immigrant Crime Office: During the first days of his presidency, Trump signed an executive order creating the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office meant to highlight crimes committed by immigrants. According to a Buzzfeed report from July 2018, after the first year the “high demand that the Trump administration anticipated for additional resources for victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants hasn’t materialized.” The office is directed by Barbara Gonzalez, ICE’s assistant director, and we’re asking for her calendars and communications, including with the White House, to see how she is using her time and resources.

The Hatch Act: We’re less than a year away from the 2020 elections, and campaign season brings with it heightened risk of Hatch Act violations. The past three years of the Trump administration have already seen worrisome tests of the prohibition on federal employees engaging in partisan political activity while at work — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway being a notable offender. American Oversight is continuing its investigation of potential Hatch Act violations across the administration, and this week filed FOIA requests at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Small Business Administration for communications between agency officials and Trump’s re-election campaign or its supporting PACs and organizations.

HHS’s Pharma Roster: The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, came to the administration from the pharmaceutical industry, where he worked for Eli Lilly, including as the company’s president. This fall, Azar named another former pharmaceutical executive, HHS Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir, as the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration while the nomination for a permanent replacement was pending before the Senate. We filed FOIA requests with HHS and the FDA for Giroir’s communications with pharmaceutical companies and associated individuals.

Not-So-Fake News: Sinclair Broadcast Group — the pro-Trump company that earlier this year had its local TV affiliates across the country run anti-media segments — recently hired a former Trump campaign staffer, Rob Wasinger, as a lobbyist. We’re asking the Federal Communications Commission for records of communications that could shed light on whether Wasinger is using his ties to prominent Trump officials to influence FCC policy.

Facebook and the FCC: Facebook and its CEO have come under severe criticism in recent weeks for its political advertising policy. In October, Facebook tweeted a statement saying that its policy was in line with FCC rules regulating candidate speech, although Facebook is not covered by FCC rules regarding political ads airing on broadcast networks. We want to know whether and to what extent the company is communicating with the FCC or influencing its decisions regarding such rules.

Joshua Kushner’s Insurance Company: This past spring, the Justice Department weighed in on a legal fight between insurance companies Oscar Health and Florida Blue, taking the side of Oscar — a company co-founded by Joshua Kushner, the brother of Jared Kushner. We filed FOIA requests with the Justice Department to see whether this personal relationship influenced the department’s actions.

Mine Safety Chair: Marco Rajkovich, the chair of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, was previously a lawyer for coal and energy companies like Alliance Coal and Murray Energy Corporation, defending them against accusations of safety violations. According to his ethics agreement, he has recused himself from dealing with matters in which he has a financial interest. We’re asking the commission for any communications between his office and those companies.

Ambassador Office Renovations: Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set, Scott Pruitt’s secret $43,000 phone booth, Brock Long’s $700,000 renovation proposal — given the Trump administration’s apparent penchant for lavish upgrades at taxpayer expense, we filed FOIA requests for records reflecting any actual or projected expenditures for renovations or redecorations of ambassadors’ residences or office suites.

Twin Metals Mine Proposal: Twin Metals, the company that plans to build a copper and nickel mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters wilderness area, has submitted its formal project proposal to regulators this week. We have a lawsuit for records related to the Trump family’s influence over the decision to renew leases for Twin Metals, which is a subsidiary of a Chilean company headed by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s billionaire D.C. landlord.

Kentucky Transportation Grant: The Government Accountability Office found that a recent Transportation Department decision to award a $67.4 million grant to Boone County, Ky., lacked “the assurance of fairness” and called out the department for not documenting why the county was given an extra chance to submit information missing from its application. The finding fuels speculation about whether the decision was made for political reasons, specifically Chao’s potential favoritism of projects from the home state of her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell. You can read more about our investigation of Chao’s special treatment of Kentucky requests here.

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December 12, 2018

Audit the Wall: No Plans, Funding or Timeline — And No Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State
Investigation Update
December 5, 2018

American Oversight Sues Administration for Records of Family-Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, HHS Office of Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
November 19, 2018

Ivanka Trump Email Investigation Sparked by American Oversight FOIAs

Department of Commerce, Department of Education, Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, Small Business Administration
Investigation Update
November 8, 2018

American Oversight Sues State Department for Trump Organization, Kushner Companies Records

Department of State
Investigation Update
October 23, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks Details of White House, Trump Organization Involvement in FBI Headquarters Decision

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
May 3, 2018

Court Rules in Favor of American Oversight in Trump Hotel Lawsuit

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
April 17, 2018

Lawsuit Seeks Scott Pruitt and Nino Perrotta Travel and Security Spending Records

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 6, 2018

New: EPA Documents Show Details of Pruitt Office Renovations

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
March 16, 2018

Sunshine Week Blog: FOIAs Will Continue Until Accountability Improves

News
February 23, 2018

FCC Commissioner Calls for Trump’s Reelection, Violates Hatch Act

Federal Communications Commission
News
February 9, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks DHS Border Wall Emails with White House, Fox News, Border States

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
February 6, 2018

Voter Fraud Commission Asked Texas to Highlight Hispanic Surnames in Voter Data

White House
Investigation Update
December 20, 2017

Update: EPA IG Refuses to Investigate Controversial Contract

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
December 11, 2017

State Department Emails Show How Embassy Websites Promoted Mar-a-Lago

Department of State
Investigation Update
December 1, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Seek Answers about Dourson’s Work at EPA

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
November 16, 2017

American Oversight and EWG Seek Records of Industry Influence at Department of Energy

Department of Energy
News
November 16, 2017

Maine Secretary of State Dunlap Election Commission Lawsuit

Investigation Update
November 2, 2017

FOIA In Action: Helping Journalists Expose Questionable Behavior By Trump’s Appointees

Department of Education, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration
News
October 31, 2017

American Oversight Sues State Department for Records Showing Efforts to Compel Mexico to Pay for Border Wall

Department of State
News
October 24, 2017

Texts Show SBA Staff Tried to “Crop the Opulence” from Trump Hotel Event

Small Business Administration
Investigation Update
October 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

Department of Justice
October 5, 2017

Lawsuit Seeks Records of Lolita Zinke’s Travel, Role at Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
October 3, 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Calendars Show Deep Industry Connections

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
September 29, 2017

“Serious, Likely Irreparable” Damage from Border Wall

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
September 18, 2017

Austin Evers Discusses Trump Inaugural Funds on MSNBC

News
September 7, 2017

Investigating EPA’s Attacks on a Journalist

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
August 30, 2017

Watchdog Groups Launch Joint Investigation into EPA Oversight of Toxic Substances Control Act

Investigation Update
August 28, 2017

Statement on EPA IG Investigation of Pruitt Travel

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
August 4, 2017

Ethics 101: Twitter Ads Follow President Trump to Bedminster, NJ

Investigation Update
August 1, 2017

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
August 1, 2017

Statement on Waiver of Environmental Regulations for Border Wall

Investigation Update
July 28, 2017

Watchdog Group Calls for Hatch Act Investigation of Gorka

White House
July 27, 2017

Call for OSC Investigation of Pruitt Travel to Oklahoma

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
July 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches “Defund Trump” Investigation

Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Investigation Update
July 21, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
News
July 13, 2017

DOJ Releases Redacted Page of Sessions’s SF-86 to American Oversight

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
July 12, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Pence-Kobach Commission Records

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, General Services Administration
News
June 28, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Sues GSA for Trump International Hotel Lease Records

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
June 27, 2017

American Oversight Sues EPA to Release Pruitt’s Calendars and Communications with Carl Icahn

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
June 22, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Challenge EPA Over Failure to Release Pesticide Records

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
June 16, 2017

Watchdog Group Files Lawsuit on Trump Border Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
May 24, 2017

After American Oversight Lawsuit, DOJ Confirms that Sessions Lied about Russian Contacts

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 16, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 12, 2017

Letter to Burr and Warner: Senate Should Request Trump-Comey Tapes

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 10, 2017

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 10, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
May 3, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for Investigation into Pattern of Promoting Trump Family Ventures on Government Websites

Department of State
News
April 25, 2017

American Oversight Files IG Complaint over State Department Promotion of Mar-A-Lago

Department of State
Investigation Update
April 19, 2017

American Oversight Sues DOJ for Release of Trump Tower Wiretap Records, Russia Investigation Documents

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, White House
Investigation Update
April 12, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Demand Release of Pruitt Communications with Pesticide Industry

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 4, 2017

10 Questions about the Border Wall that Deserve Big, Beautiful Answers

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
March 29, 2017

Call for GSA Inspector General to Review Trump Hotel Lease Decision

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
March 28, 2017

Statement on Trump Administration Proposal to Build Border Wall South of Rio Grande

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
March 22, 2017

Statement on Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes’ Actions

Investigation Update
March 17, 2017

American Oversight Calls on Congress to Investigate Trump Aide’s Reported Ties to Nazi Group

Office of Government Ethics, White House
News