News Roundup: Launching Our Investigation of Trump’s Authoritarian Purges

This week, American Oversight launched its investigation of one of President Donald Trump’s most aggressive and worrying attacks yet on democracy — the purging of administration and intelligence officials deemed to be disloyal.

Loyalty over truth and political advantage over public service and safety are, of course, hallmarks of authoritarianism. And the past two weeks have brought more details about the president’s dangerous reshaping of the intelligence community to serve his own needs.

On Wednesday, Politico reported that the ousting of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire — and his replacement with Ambassador Ric Grenell, a Trump supporter with no intelligence experience — was “only the tip of the iceberg.” Grenell, the new acting DNI, used to work for a Moldovan politician who is barred from entering the U.S. under anti-corruption sanctions, which Grenell did not disclose. Grenell also failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In response to this news, we filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Office of the DNI, the State Department and the FBI for records related to Grenell’s security clearance process.

The replacement of Maguire with Grenell is, as former acting DNI David Gompert said in Wednesday’s Politico story, evidence that the “principal objective … of this acting DNI is to ensure that information about Russian [election] interference and Russian preference for this particular president does not get out.” Politico also reported that Trump’s increasingly tight grip on the intelligence community has had “a chilling effect” on senior officials who don’t want to be on the wrong end of Trump’s attacks.  

One consequence has been the reported withholding of information from the House Intelligence Committee during the course of the impeachment investigation, which Committee Chair Adam Schiff last month accused the NSA and the CIA of doing. We filed FOIA requests with both agencies for records of any directives or guidance for sharing (or not sharing) material with Congress.

But it’s not just the intelligence community that Trump has trained his loyalty-desperate sights on. Axios reported that for a year and a half, White House officials and allies had been assembling lists of “bad people” to purge from government. Those allies include Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had received names through her work with the right-wing strategy group Groundswell. Trump has also received help from the recently rehired John McEntee, his new head of the White House’s personnel office. McEntee has reportedly asked cabinet White House liaisons to identify disloyal officials.

In the last week and a half, we’ve filed a number of FOIA requests to learn more about the activists and advisers working with Trump on his dictatorial ambitions, asking for records of Maguire’s communications about Russian interference as well as emails between White House liaisons and McEntee or Thomas. As the president’s actions become increasingly alarming, we’re committed to shedding light on these threats to our civil service and national security. We’re also keeping our eyes on the administration’s other actions — read on for more about what we’ve been up to this week:

New Ukraine Documents: Late last Friday, the State Department released a new batch of emails related to the Trump administration’s Ukraine pressure campaign. The documents reveal additional details about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s contacts with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March 2019, when the smear campaign of then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was occurring. The president may have been acquitted by his loyalists in the Senate, but more evidence like this will continue to emerge. In fact, today is the deadline for the Defense Department to produce more documents to American Oversight — keep an eye on our website and Twitter.

‘Unapproved Condom Imagery’: That’s what an official at the Department of Health and Human Services called a picture on an educational flier about HIV before asking that the file be removed from a government website. American Oversight obtained the email from August 2017, which was reported on by Kaiser Health News on Friday. You can read more here.

Stephen Miller Lawsuit: The administration’s so-called “public charge” rule, a wealth test that allows immigration officials to deny green cards or visas to applicants deemed likely to use public assistance, went into effect this week. Given that White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller has been behind some of the administration’s harshest immigration policies — and reportedly has a network of like-minded officials installed across various federal agencies — we’re suing for Miller’s communications with officials at the Departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, all agencies that will be affected by the new rule.

Florida Voting: Documents we obtained through our State Accountability Project were featured in a story about the difficulties people with former felony convictions in Florida still face in trying to access the polls. The documents revealed that state agencies like the Florida Department of Corrections and county clerks have received conflicting directions from the Division of Elections on the implementation of the controversial SB 7066. To make matters worse, human errors like typos and misspelled words have made it nearly impossible to track down individuals’ financial obligations.

Health-Care Sharing Ministries: More than a million Americans struggling to pay for health care have joined Christian cost-sharing groups that offer far lower rates but are not, as the New York Times reported earlier this year, legally obligated to pay all their members’ medical claims. The Trump administration’s relaxed rules for alternatives to the Affordable Care Act has allowed such groups to grow. We’re asking for any communications or information about meetings that key officials in the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services had with medical cost-sharing groups such as Sedera Health.

Retaliation Against States: Measures seemingly designed to punish states that have been deemed uncooperative with the Trump administration’s harsh immigration enforcement efforts have gone beyond the president’s threats to undermine sanctuary cities — recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that New York residents would no longer be permitted to participate in travel programs like Global Entry. Other measures with regard to “uncooperative states” have also been discussed. We filed requests with DHS for related communications or final directives, and we also asked for communications that federal immigration officials or the White House had with the New York governor’s office or the county clerks in Rensselaer and Erie Counties.

Eddie Gallagher: Early in February, Rear Adm. Collin Green — who had disagreed with the president’s intervention in the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — announced that he would resign from his post. Gallagher had been accused of committing war crimes in Iraq, and Trump had not only reinstated Gallagher’s rank after the officer was demoted as punishment but had also overruled Green’s effort to allow a disciplinary review. This wasn’t the first such high-profile resignation over the president’s handling of the Gallagher case; back in November, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer also resigned. We filed a number of FOIA requests with the Defense Department for communications related to the case, including with the White House, as well as for any formal departure memo or message from Green.

Scott Angelle: The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Scott Angelle, the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, had ordered a staff engineer to remove language in a new offshore drilling safety rule that contained objections from BSEE engineers. Angelle, the president’s top offshore oil and gas regulator, is the same official who called gas companies “partners” and gave his cell number to industry representatives, reminding them to call because written communications are subject to FOIA. We also obtained documents showing that Angelle has had far higher number of calls with industry groups than he has with watchdogs or conservation groups.

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News
October 24, 2019

Research Tool: Ukraine-Trump Key Figures and Documents

Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury
News
October 23, 2019

Federal Judge Says He Will Order State Department to Begin Turning Over Requested Ukraine Documents

Department of State
Investigation Update
News
October 22, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks Perry and Brouillette Ukraine Documents and Communications about Biden Investigation Effort

Department of Energy
Investigation Update
October 18, 2019

News Roundup: Corruption, Plain and Simple

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State
News
October 18, 2019

Court Calls for Hearing on Emergency Motion for Ukraine Documents

Department of State
Investigation Update
October 11, 2019

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

Administration for Children and Families, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security
News
October 9, 2019

Early Trump Administration — and McAleenan — Communications About Immigration Policy

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
News
October 4, 2019

News Roundup: The Public Needs Answers

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State
Investigation Update
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 27, 2019

Using FOIA to Fight Trump Administration Obstruction

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Department of the Interior
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 13, 2019

News Roundup: Photos of Detention Centers for Migrant Children; Stephen Miller’s Hand in Immigration Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS Office of Inspector General, Small Business Administration
News
September 12, 2019

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

Department of State
Investigation Update
September 8, 2019

Photos from Inside Detention Centers for Migrant Children

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Office of Inspector General
Investigation Update
September 6, 2019

News Roundup: Trump’s Enthusiastic Support for New Drug Raises Questions

Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Education, 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, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Food and Drug Administration, Georgia Department of Driver Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission, Texas Attorney General
News
August 30, 2019

News Roundup: Remain in Mexico’s Harmful Effects and Trump’s Dangerous Impatience

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Geological Survey
News
August 27, 2019

Investigating HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s Connections to Pharmaceutical Companies

Department of Health and Human Services
Investigation Update
August 13, 2019

More Examples of Personal Email Use and Heavy-Handed Outside Influence at the VA

Department of Veterans Affairs
Investigation Update
News
July 19, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating the Fallout from Spring’s DHS Shakeup

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Florida Office of the Governor, General Services Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Tennessee Valley Authority
News
June 27, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security Doesn’t Know Where Trump Got Those Immigration Numbers, Either

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
June 25, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Records of Trump Family Influence over Minnesota Mining Project

Bureau of Land Management, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, United States Forest Service
Investigation Update
June 18, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Records to Shed Light on Deaths of Detainees in DHS Custody

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
News
June 13, 2019

Documents Reveal New Information About 2017 CBP Media Efforts

Customs and Border Protection
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
June 4, 2019

Documents Reveal Extent of Koch-Funded VA Privatization Group’s Influence

Department of Veterans Affairs
Investigation Update
May 30, 2019

Trump Administration Appeals Court Decision Ordering It to Turn Over Communications with Congress About ACA Sabotage

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
May 24, 2019

News Roundup: Congressional Hearing Shows and No-Shows

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Taylor County - Florida
News
April 24, 2019

American Oversight and ACLU of Massachusetts Sue DHS for Border Security Plan

Investigation Update
April 2, 2019

Federal Judge Rejects Administration’s Argument for Withholding Communications with Congress about ACA Sabotage

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
News
March 29, 2019

News Roundup: The Mueller Investigation Is Over, But the Swamp Is Thriving

News
March 25, 2019

The Corruption Continues: Mueller Has Finished His Work. American Oversight Has Not.

News
March 13, 2019

Two Years of American Oversight

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
March 8, 2019

Watchdogs Sue HHS Following Women’s Health Website Overhaul

Department of Health and Human Services
News
March 1, 2019

HHS Secretary Azar Calendars Show Multiple Meetings with Conservative Health-Care Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
News
February 21, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks HHS Communications with Anti-Abortion Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
News
February 15, 2019

News Roundup: Citizenship, the Census and the Constitution

Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice
News
February 1, 2019

News Roundup: More Troops at the Border Means More Questions for the Administration

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security
News
January 18, 2019

News Roundup: Two Troubling Inspector General Reports

Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, General Services Administration
News
January 11, 2019

News Roundup: The Administration’s Misleading Claims About Terrorists at the Southern Border

Department of Homeland Security
News
January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
News
December 27, 2018

Countdown to Oversight in 2019

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
December 5, 2018

American Oversight Sues Administration for Records of Family-Separation Policy

Administration for Children and Families, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, HHS Office of Inspector General, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Investigation Update
April 17, 2018

Lawsuit Seeks Scott Pruitt and Nino Perrotta Travel and Security Spending Records

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 6, 2018

New: EPA Documents Show Details of Pruitt Office Renovations

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
March 16, 2018

Sunshine Week Blog: FOIAs Will Continue Until Accountability Improves

News
March 9, 2018

American Oversight Sues HHS and CMS for Verma Ethics Records

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services
News
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 20, 2017

Update: EPA IG Refuses to Investigate Controversial Contract

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
Investigation Update
December 1, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Seek Answers about Dourson’s Work at EPA

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
November 16, 2017

American Oversight and EWG Seek Records of Industry Influence at Department of Energy

Department of Energy
News
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

Health Care Lawsuit: Fighting for Transparency

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
October 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

Department of Justice
October 5, 2017

Lawsuit Seeks Records of Lolita Zinke’s Travel, Role at Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
October 3, 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Calendars Show Deep Industry Connections

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
September 29, 2017

“Serious, Likely Irreparable” Damage from Border Wall

Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
September 15, 2017

Congress Enters Legal Fight to Block Release of Obamacare Repeal Emails

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services
Investigation Update
September 13, 2017

“News to Me!” – Inside the Health Care Emails

Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
September 7, 2017

Investigating EPA’s Attacks on a Journalist

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
September 7, 2017

Third Set of Health Care Emails Again Shows Trump Administration Effort to Hide Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
August 30, 2017

Watchdog Groups Launch Joint Investigation into EPA Oversight of Toxic Substances Control Act

Investigation Update
August 28, 2017

Statement on EPA IG Investigation of Pruitt Travel

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
August 2, 2017

New Health Care Documents Show Effort to Hide Details of Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
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 27, 2017

Call for OSC Investigation of Pruitt Travel to Oklahoma

Environmental Protection Agency
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 20, 2017

American Oversight Sues HHS and OMB For Secret Trump Letter Outlining Plan to Weaken Obamacare

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget, White House
Investigation Update
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 27, 2017

American Oversight Sues EPA to Release Pruitt’s Calendars and Communications with Carl Icahn

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
June 22, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Challenge EPA Over Failure to Release Pesticide Records

Environmental Protection Agency
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
May 4, 2017

Watchdog Files Lawsuit, Seeks Injunction for HHS, OMB Health Care Negotiation Record

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
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
April 12, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Demand Release of Pruitt Communications with Pesticide Industry

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 4, 2017

10 Questions about the Border Wall that Deserve Big, Beautiful Answers

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior
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 23, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Secret Health Care Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
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