News Roundup: Evidence of Obstruction

Representative Jason Crow holds up a heavily-redacted email from the Office of Management and Budget during the Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday

Just before midnight on Tuesday night, the White House budget office released nearly 200 pages of Ukraine-related records to American Oversight in response to a FOIA lawsuit. Those pages included previously unreleased emails that showed top officials in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) were laying the groundwork to freeze military assistance to Ukraine even before President Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

These records had also never been provided to Congress — either during the House impeachment hearings or the Senate trial. In fact, in the hours immediately before the OMB files were released to American Oversight, the Senate voted down two separate attempts to issue subpoenas seeking many of these same documents.

Less than 18 hours later, on Wednesday evening, the documents we had obtained from OMB were on display on the Senate floor. Representative Jason Crow, one of the House’s impeachment managers, held up a copy of a heavily redacted email that had been released to American Oversight and posted on our website.

Later that evening, Representative Adam Schiff again pointed to the OMB emails we uncovered.

As we have written before, the fact that American Oversight has been able to obtain Ukraine-related records through FOIA when those same documents were withheld from House investigators is clear evidence of the Trump administration’s obstruction of Congress. Our work was cited in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report, and Obstruction of Congress is the second of the two articles of impeachment currently pending before the Senate.

The Trump White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been counting on a strategy of total obstruction to prevent the Senate and the American people from getting the full truth about the Ukraine scandal. But thanks to FOIA litigation from American Oversight, the New York Times, the Center for Public Integrity, and others, that strategy is breaking down.

Already we have obtained several hundred pages of documents that — even despite heavy redactions — have shed new light on the timing and implementation of the scheme to withhold military aid from Ukraine in exchange for political interference in the upcoming election.

And more records are coming soon. Next Tuesday, January 28, the Department of Energy has a deadline to begin releasing responsive records related to former secretary Rick Perry’s role in an official delegation to President Zelensky’s inauguration as well as his communications with key individuals. Perry was one of the so-called “three amigos” who, along with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, were tasked with executing President Trump’s agenda in Ukraine. He has since left the administration, but his records still belong to the American people, and we’re going to keep fighting to make them public.

There are even more document production deadlines coming over the next several weeks, and as we have done in the past, we will make the records we obtain available to the public here on the website. 

Even as the impeachment trial has taken center stage, we’ve been continuing our work to investigate new developments in the Ukraine saga as well as ongoing corruption and misconduct across the Trump administration. Here’s what else our team has been working on this week:

Records of Giuliani’s DOJ Visits: While many of the latest revelations in the impeachment proceedings have revolved around OMB or the State Department, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani remains a central figure in the affair. Last week, CNN reported that Attorney General William Barr was at a Justice Department meeting where Giuliani was also present. We asked the DOJ for visitor logs, security staff emails, and other records used to keep track of visitors that may reflect visits made by Rudy Giuliani and others. 

Fox & Feds: The relationship between Fox News and the Trump Administration is certainly a singular one. President Trump regularly expresses his preference for Fox News coverage, sometimes by granting wider access to Fox reporters. Meanwhile, a revolving door has formed between the media outlet and the administration with over a dozen former Fox contributors now serving in government positions. We filed a request to the State Department for communications sent to Fox News from specific agency officials who used to work with the media company, including State Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus and several U.S. ambassadors.

Boeing’s New Boardmember: Last Spring, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley joined Boeing’s board of directors — a decision she made after describing the private sector as a “step up” from public service. Haley now helps oversee the private aerospace company which also fulfills billions of dollars worth of federal contracts, primarily for the U.S. military. We filed requests to multiple agencies to learn if Haley has contacted high ranking government officials since the beginning of her tenure at Boeing, including leaders at the Department of Defense, the Department of State, NASA, and the Department of Transportation. We also requested any communications between Haley and Boeing during her service as UN Ambassador. 

Delrahim’s Texting Practices: In December the New York Times reported that Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s antitrust division, worked with T-Mobile and Sprint, two of the largest wireless companies, to close a merger worth $26 billion. Text messages reveal that Delrahim played an unusually involved role in aiding the companies through the regulation process, indicating that the DOJ may not have approved the historic merger without his help and raising questions about his texting practices (and how he conducts official agency business). We’re asking the DOJ for Delrahim’s resume and ethics documents, as well as his text messages and calendar entries starting from when he assumed office in September 2017. 

Monetizing the DOD’s Emergency Network: Rivada Networks, a communications technology company that claims to turn ”wireless networks into markets,” has lobbied the Trump administration with an infrastructure model that monetizes the DOD’s often unused emergency network system. The Rivada system promises to bring better network service to rural communities by selling the network when it’s not in use. However, questions have been raised about the model’s practicality as well as about allegations that Rivada’s top executive worked to circumvent the federal contract awards processes with a previous company. We asked for communications between certain FCC officials and specific external individuals and groups to determine if outside influences are guiding federal telecommunications policy. 

Records from the Commission on Unalienable Rights: On July 8, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a committee that will provide the secretary with human rights advice while working to further define the concept of ‘unalienable rights.’ The commission raised immediate concern among academics and human rights groups. Kenneth Roth, executive director of the Human Rights Watch, testified that the commission’s hearings “have been fraught with threats to the very human rights that the commission purports to strengthen…. [and] the purpose of this commission is not to uphold all rights but to pick and choose among them.” We filed a request under the Federal Advisory Committee Act for commission meeting records that should have been made available to the public. 

EPA’s California Communications: When the EPA and DOT moved to roll back national tailpipe pollution standards, the state of California responded by suing the Trump administration and signing a separate deal with automakers. Since then, the Trump administration has made a series of substantive complaints against California, many through the EPA. We asked the EPA for communications between top agency officials and the White House about California to learn more about the EPA’s motivations behind recent actions. 

Tennessee Valley Authority Travel Expenses: Last September, auditors reviewed about $1.8 million dollars worth of travel expenses of the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). An inspector general’s report found instances of excessive travel spending among TVA executives in violation of federal regulations, including pricey meals, opting for more expensive car services, and overpaying allowances. We filed a request for records that can shed light on travel expenses for TVA executives. 

State Accountability Project: Over the past year American Oversight has investigated Texas officials’ communications with “voter fraud” activist groups, filed public information requests about polling place closures, as well as Texas voter roll maintenance directives. Now we’re asking multiple Texas entities, including the Texas Senate and Office of the Governor, for copies of their policies regarding records retention and email auto-deletion. We also filed a series of requests about changes to polling place locations in Clayton County, Georgia. 

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