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.