News Roundup: Neither Rain Nor Snow Nor … Trump’s Political Interference

Senate Coronavirus Bill Includes $1.75 Billion for FBI Project Near Trump Hotel
New EDNY Prosecutor’s Involvement in Investigation into Mueller Probe
Operation Legend Expands to Swing States
How the Education Department Tried to Help a For-Profit College Chain That Lied to Students

 

When President Donald Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service first began causing a stir in 2018 — calling for the centuries-old agency to be privatized — his insistence on viewing it as a business rather than an essential government service seemed to be yet another indication of his administration’s penchant for clearing the way for private industry to reap big rewards.

But the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic have also revealed that Trump’s antagonistic stance toward the overwhelmingly well-liked Postal Service not only endangers the delivery of mail; it also threatens to undermine confidence in the November 2020 election and to limit many Americans’ right to vote as well.

The White House stepped up its attacks on the post office in the spring, when the president threatened to veto the coronavirus relief bill if it contained money for the financially struggling agency, and Trump directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to withhold the $10 billion loan approved by Congress. (It wasn’t until this week that USPS and the Treasury reached an agreement on the terms of the loan.) And as primary elections were taking place in states across the country, Trump and his allies began making alarmist and unfounded claims about the dangers of voter fraud due to the increased use of absentee voting.

On Wednesday, Vice reported on the slashing of post office hours at locations across the country, and the plan (since walked back because of likely violations of federal law) to close offices for good with just a few weeks’ notice. Those moves are the latest in a troubling line of changes undertaken under new Postmaster Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor who was appointed in May. Besides the obvious questions about how a top donor earned his office, DeJoy’s previous job as head of the warehouse and distribution company New Breed Logistics also raised eyebrows because of its history of anti-union practices and workplace violations, as reported on by the Intercept

In early July, the Washington Post reported on memos detailing significant operational changes that could seriously hinder mail delivery and undermine the service’s competitiveness with private companies. Among the measures outlined by DeJoy was the instruction to leave mail at distribution centers if it would delay letter carriers getting to their routes. Americans across the country have already noticed unusual delays in the delivery of packages and letters.

It’s obvious what these self-inflicted setbacks mean for holding an election that will rely more on the postal service than ever before. And the new developments have many voting-rights advocates worried, especially in states that have not expanded their capacity for mail-in voting, or have constricted windows for turning in ballots that are based on assumed timely delivery.

American Oversight is investigating whether and to what extent the White House is interfering in the postal service’s mission to not let “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” hamper its operations — either to lend a hand to private industry or to aid in the president’s reelection efforts by undermining trust in the voting process. We filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in June after the agency failed to respond to requests seeking Trump administration communications or directives related to vote-by-mail operations as well as records regarding the impact of the pandemic on USPS functions.

Here’s what else has been going on this week:

Senate Coronavirus Bill Includes $1.75 Billion for FBI Project Near Trump Hotel: Why a pandemic relief bill would include nearly $2 billion for the rebuilding of the FBI’s downtown D.C. headquarters was a question raised this week by a reporter in a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That insertion was “insisted” on by the White House, leading to additional speculation about the president’s interest in the construction project.

Here’s the backstory: For more than a decade, the FBI had sought congressional funding to move its headquarters from the deteriorating J. Edgar Hoover Building to the suburbs. In 2017, the Trump administration abruptly scrapped the search for a new location, then announced in early 2018 that the new (and costlier) plan was to rebuild at its current location, which happens to sit one block from the Trump International Hotel. Read the latest in our investigation into whether this about-face was a result of an effort to ensure prime real estate near Trump’s hotel remained free of competition.

New EDNY Prosecutor’s Involvement in Investigation into Mueller Probe: This week, the New York Times reported on the scrutiny facing Seth DuCharme, the Justice Department official whom Attorney General William Barr recently installed as the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In assuming the role, DuCharme switched places with Richard P. Donoghue, who moved from EDNY to the Justice Department. 

The scrutiny is not without reason: Donoghue had been tasked by Barr with overseeing all Ukraine-related investigations. Additionally, documents uncovered by American Oversight, as mentioned in the Times, revealed that DuCharme was closely involved in the controversial investigation into the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election interference. Leading that investigation-of-an-investigation is U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was appointed by Barr.

Those previously reported documents show extensive contact between Barr and Durham around the time of the Mueller report’s release, and newly released records also include an email from DuCharme to Durham in which DuCharme said that Barr had told him to “provide you with my support and assistance.” 

Barr Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee: Barr appeared before lawmakers on Tuesday to defend his handling of the aggressive response to nationwide protests and his department’s unprecedented interventions into criminal cases that involve associates of the president. During the hearing, Barr refused to commit to waiting until after the election to release any findings from Durham’s investigation, raising alarm over whether a well-timed announcement could be used to help Trump’s reelection efforts. 

Operation Legend Expands to Swing States: On Wednesday, the Trump administration said that it would finally be withdrawing federal officers from Portland, Ore., where their presence fueled protests and their violent response to demonstrations drew widespread condemnation.

But that isn’t the end of the president’s attempted federal occupation of American cities. That same day, the Justice Department announced that it would be bringing “Operation Legend” — the deployment of federal law enforcement to cities across the country to “fight violent crime,” whether local officials wanted them or not — to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee, all cities in key swing states. Many have decried the operation as a political stunt meant to distract from the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the president’s low poll numbers. 

How the Education Department Tried to Help a For-Profit College Chain That Lied to Students: The Washington Post reported this week on documents uncovered through FOIA litigation by American Oversight and the watchdog group Student Defense that show more than 100 texts between Education Department official Diane Auer Jones — a former lobbyist for for-profit colleges — and executives from Dream Center, the company that continued to accept tuition payments for months in 2018 without telling students their schools had lost accreditation.

The texts, along with other documents and recent revelations, undermine many of the Education Department’s claims about the extent of its work on behalf of the company, including Jones’ representations of her contacts with Dream Center and of when she learned about the accreditation issue. Read more here about the latest exposure of industry’ influence at Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agency.

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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
October 4, 2019

Former Top Civil Rights Official John Gore Made Misleading Statements in Declaration to Federal Court

Department of Justice
October 1, 2019

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

Department of State
September 18, 2019

In the Documents: Texas Elections Officials’ Close Ties to ‘Voter Fraud’ Activists

Starr County - Texas, Texas Attorney General, Texas Secretary of State
September 11, 2019

What We Found in Controversial Federal Court Nominee Steven Menashi’s Calendars

Department of Education
September 4, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Records from Investigation into Potential Trump Campaign-Finance Violations

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
August 22, 2019

Lawsuit Against Education Department Uncovers Records of Student Loan Company CEO’s Lobbying

Department of Education
July 30, 2019

American Oversight Sues Justice Department over Brooklyn Jail’s Inhumane Winter Conditions

Department of Justice
May 17, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating State-Level Threats to Democracy

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida, Georgia, Texas
March 13, 2019

Two Years of American Oversight

February 15, 2019

News Roundup: Citizenship, the Census and the Constitution

Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice
January 31, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Emails of DOJ Official Involved in Controversial Civil Rights Decisions

Department of Justice
January 28, 2019

Court Orders Trump Administration to Turn Over More Voter-Fraud Commission Records

White House
January 24, 2019

Checking Up on Trump’s Claims that Military Experts Told Him to Ban Transgender Troops

Department of Defense
December 27, 2018

Countdown to Oversight in 2019

February 23, 2018

FCC Commissioner Calls for Trump’s Reelection, Violates Hatch Act

Federal Communications Commission
February 6, 2018

Voter Fraud Commission Asked Texas to Highlight Hispanic Surnames in Voter Data

White House
January 12, 2018

Justice Department Staffing Up For Its Ill-Conceived Affirmative Action Investigation

Department of Justice
January 2, 2018

New FOIAs Seek Records of Civil Rights Investigations at Department of Education

Department of Education
December 19, 2017

American Oversight Sues DOD to Uncover Truth Behind Trump’s Transgender Ban

Department of Defense
November 16, 2017

Maine Secretary of State Dunlap Election Commission Lawsuit

October 4, 2017

DOJ Confirms Harvard Affirmative Action Investigation

Department of Justice
September 18, 2017

Austin Evers Discusses Trump Inaugural Funds on MSNBC

September 7, 2017

DACA Announcement Reflects Lack of Seriousness About the Law

Department of Justice
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
August 1, 2017

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
July 28, 2017

Watchdog Group Calls for Hatch Act Investigation of Gorka

White House
July 27, 2017

Call for OSC Investigation of Pruitt Travel to Oklahoma

Environmental Protection Agency
July 21, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
July 13, 2017

DOJ Releases Redacted Page of Sessions’s SF-86 to American Oversight

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
July 12, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Pence-Kobach Commission Records

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, General Services Administration
May 24, 2017

After American Oversight Lawsuit, DOJ Confirms that Sessions Lied about Russian Contacts

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
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