News Roundup: Court Chips Away at Trump Administration Obstruction

It hasn’t been a very good week for President Donald Trump’s weakening barricades against the impeachment investigation. On Friday, a federal judge ordered the State Department to begin producing Ukraine-related records by November 22 in response to American Oversight’s lawsuit.

This is the first time that the administration has been instructed by a court to release Ukraine documents. Our lawsuit seeks senior officials’ communications — including those of Secretary Mike Pompeo — with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates, or about Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into Trump’s political opponents. We also asked for records related to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s May 2019 firing, a move she testified was pushed by both Giuliani and the president.

“The court recognized the importance of these documents and the need for the State Department to rapidly release them,” American Oversight’s Austin Evers said following the hearing. The administration may continue its obstructionism, but the court’s decision ensures that key documents will see the light of day.

But even the White House’s vow to not comply with congressional requests — and its order that officials not comply either — is showing its weakness, thanks to the many State Department officials who have appeared before Congress. 

On Tuesday, U.S. diplomat Bill Taylor, who headed the embassy in Kyiv after the recall of Yovanovitch, gave devastating testimony before congressional investigators. The diplomat outlined a clear quid pro quo, saying he had been told by Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland that congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, plus a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy, depended on Ukraine’s commitment to investigating Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son.

But Taylor didn’t just talk about how he was told Trump wanted Ukraine to “pay up” before he’d be “signing the check”; he also discussed the separate channels created for handling Ukraine policy and Pompeo’s lack of response to complaints. One of the officials in the Giuliani-steered informal channel was outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who reports indicate met with Ukrainian officials at least four times in 2019. Earlier this week, American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Energy Department for records related to Perry’s May delegation to Ukraine, and for senior officials’ communications related to the wider Ukraine effort.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the White House’s effort to pressure Ukraine may have extended beyond withholding of military aid. The report said that U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer had withdrawn a recommendation to restore some Ukraine trade privileges following a warning from then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request for communications from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative about Giuliani or his efforts.

If all this has been hard to keep track of, we have good news: We’ve compiled a glossary of people who have turned up in news reports related to the Ukraine investigation and in documents we’ve obtained, from U.S. government officials to private citizens and Giuliani associates. We’ve also gone through calendars from multiple federal agencies to uncover meetings with some of those key figures.

Here’s what else we’ve been up to this week:

G7 at Doral: After public outcry, Trump dropped his plan to host the 2020 G7 meeting at his Doral golf club in Florida (while calling the Constitution’s emoluments clause “phony”). He also claimed that the Doral location would be “free.” But considering his penchant for profiting off the presidency, we filed FOIA requests to see whether that claim holds up. We’re asking the Treasury and State Departments, the Secret Service, the Office of Management and Budget for communications about the Doral selection as well as any contracts or records regarding the cost.

Election Security: This summer, news reports said that Brian Newby, the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was directing agency staff not to work on cybersecurity efforts, and that officials at the commission disagreed on the threat of foreign interference in American elections. We’ve asked the EAC for directives or guidance regarding foreign interference, as well as for top officials’ communications with voting-restriction activists like Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky.

Leveraged Loans: The market for leveraged loans — risky corporate loans issued by banks and financial institutions — has expanded enormously in recent years, thanks to the Trump administration’s easing of supervision over them. Experts have expressed concern about the loans’ vulnerability to default and the risk that they would exacerbate instability in the event of an economic downturn. We filed FOIA requests with the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for communications top officials had with members of Congress or financial institutions regarding the regulation of the industry.

Carson in Baltimore: Back in July, Trump tweeted that the district of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, which encompasses half of Baltimore County, was a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous[,] filthy place.” Four days later, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited Baltimore and defended the Trump’s remarks. American Oversight has previously uncovered evidence of Carson’s family exercising inappropriate influence at HUD, including his son’s planning of a 2017 Baltimore “listening tour” for the secretary. We’re continuing our investigation of his family’s role at the agency.

 

State Public Records Requests

Texas: We asked multiple counties and the state’s health services department for records related to infectious diseases at migrant detention and processing centers.

Georgia: We filed public records requests with Georgia’s offices of the governor and the secretary of state for communications about redistricting or gerrymandering, and for communications with lobbyists for the voting machine company Dominion. We also filed a request related to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s dismissal of reports on vulnerabilities in Georgia’s election system.

Florida: We’re asking for communications the legislature and the governor’s office had with the Republican State Leadership Committee.

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News
October 4, 2019

Pompeo’s Obstructionism Won’t Work

Department of State
News
October 2, 2019

Pompeo’s Letter Is the Trump Administration’s Opening Salvo of Obstruction

Department of State
News
October 1, 2019

We’re Suing the State Department for Giuliani-Ukraine Documents

Department of State
Investigation Update
September 27, 2019

News Roundup: From the Top Down

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Collier County - Florida, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Management and Budget
News
September 25, 2019

Release of Trump–Zelensky Call Readout Raises Questions About Justice Department Involvement

Agency for International Development, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury
Investigation Update
September 20, 2019

News Roundup: Trump, Giuliani, and Ukraine

Administration for Children and Families, Agency for International Development, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Reserve, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Institutes of Health, Starr County - Texas, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Texas Attorney General, Texas Secretary of State, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
News
September 12, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks State Department Records of Jared Kushner’s Middle East Trips

Department of State
Investigation Update
June 7, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating Outside Influence and Political Appointments at the State Department

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration
News
March 12, 2019

Investigating the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, International Trade Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
News
January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
News
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
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
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
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 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

Department of Justice
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
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 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
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
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
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