News Roundup: Impeachment, Obstruction, and More Questions about Rick Perry

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

In its latest bid to slow down the fast-moving impeachment inquiry, the Trump White House has sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi an extraordinary letter, stating that it was refusing to comply with congressional requests.

Calling the House’s impeachment inquiry “constitutionally invalid,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said that it “lacks the necessary authorization for a valid impeachment proceeding,” echoing the argument employed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that Pelosi needs to first hold a formal vote to authorize the inquiry itself.

Besides the fact that the Constitution does not, in fact, require such a vote to take place, holding an authorization vote — even just to demonstrate House Democrats’ willingness to accommodate the executive branch and the House minority — would actually be pointless when it comes to getting the White House to cooperate, as American Oversight’s Molly Claflin outlines here.

Initiating such a vote now could not only undermine the subpoenas already working their way through the judicial system; it could also be politically fraught in its own way. But first and foremost, an authorization vote would likely not change anything about the Trump administration’s obstructionist stance.

Since the beginning of his term, President Donald Trump and his administration have demonstrated unprecedented contempt for checks and balances and the importance of congressional oversight. And the tone of Cipollone’s defiant (and historically dubious) letter is yet another indication that this obstructionist stance isn’t likely to be mitigated by an unnecessary vote.

Besides, the impeachment inquiry seems to be rolling along just fine without it, with new revelations about Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine (and other countries) to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son coming to light on a daily basis. In just the past two days, news outlets have reported that Trump pressed former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help get the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against one of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s clients, and two Giuliani allies — Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas — who assisted him with his Biden-Ukraine efforts were arrested on campaign-finance charges.

Our investigation into the Ukraine scandal includes requests for communications related to Fruman and Parnas, and you can read more about this week’s news and our other investigations below:

Perry and Ukraine: Questions continue to arise about Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who this week was subpoenaed by the House in the impeachment investigation. According to news reports, Trump directed Perry to speak with Giuliani about Ukraine. We’ve been investigating the decision to have Perry, instead of Vice President Mike Pence, lead the May delegation for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and this week filed additional FOIA requests for information about Perry’s meetings with Ukrainian officials and for Energy Department communications with the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz.

Perry’s Second: Though Perry has denied the reports of his impending resignation, many have been looking at his likely successor, Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette. Calendars we obtained through FOIA litigation on behalf of the Union for Concerned Scientists reveal his having had a major role in many of the Trump administration’s more controversial energy policy efforts.

Our Ukraine Investigation: In addition to the FOIA requests regarding Perry’s activities, we’ve filed multiple additional requests in our ongoing investigation of the Trump administration’s communications with Ukraine. You can see all the newly filed FOIA requests on our Ukraine investigation page, including requests for information about Pence’s foreign trips and his potential involvement in the scandal.

Infectious Diseases in Detention Centers: As flu season approaches, news outlets have reported that the U.S. will not provide flu vaccines to migrant families held in detention centers, despite the flu-related deaths of at least three detained children in recent years. Between September 2018 and August 2019, more than 700 migrants were infected with mumps after being exposed to the disease in detention centers, and medical and public health experts have warned about poor conditions that could lead to the spread of disease. We filed FOIA requests with the Department of Health and Human Services and with Customs and Border Protection to learn more about the government’s practice and protocols for preventing the spread of infectious diseases among migrants in detention.

Menashi Lawsuit: We sued the Education Department this week for records related to controversial judicial nominee Steven Menashi’s tenure at the department, where he worked prior to his current role at the White House. Menashi’s confirmation is on thin ice thanks to his less-than-forthcoming answers during his Senate hearing last month — not to mention his past far-right commentary on women’s rights and ethnonationalism. Calendars we obtained show that his work closely aligned with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ conservative priorities, and we’re suing to find out more.

Chao’s Favoring of Kentucky: Politico analyzed 14 months’ worth of calendars obtained by American Oversight, and reported that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao prioritized meeting with Kentuckians — further evidence of her preferential treatment of requests from the home state of her and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s campaign then promoted the Politico story as evidence of his influence in the federal government, which is, needless to say, problematic.

In the Documents

Energy Department calendars: We have Perry’s calendars from 2017, which include a Feb. 2 meeting with Naftogaz.

Border Wall: Documents from Customs and Border Protection include records of companies that submitted prototype wall proposals in response to federal proposal requests.

Transportation Calendars: Calendars of senior Transportation Department political appointees show a number of Chao’s Kentucky-related meetings and events.

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