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.
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.