News Roundup: Presidential War Powers and New Impeachment Documents

It’s been a week since the drone strike that killed Iran’s Maj. Gen Qasem Soleimani, but the justifications provided by the administration have still not satisfied those concerned about the Trump administration’s posture toward Iran — including members of Congress.

On Thursday, the House approved a war powers resolution to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without Congress’s approval. The vote occurred the day after a closed-door briefing that left Sen. Mike Lee of Utah indignant, with him calling the briefing “insulting and demeaning.” Questions remain not just about whether Soleimani did represent an “imminent” threat, as officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially said, but also whether the White House considered itself to have legal justification for striking Iran again.

That has been a question for months, especially after the administration’s moves last spring to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover whether the administration had been laying the legal groundwork for initiating military action under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and documents we recently obtained in response to that request reveal that members of Congress were asking the administration the same questions.

The records show a number of internal emails about how to answer Congress’s questions, but even the finalized responses are redacted. In a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, the State Department said that “the Administration has not, to date, interpreted either AUMF as authorizing military force against Iran, except as may be necessary to defend U.S. or partner forces … .”

Earlier this week, American Oversight filed additional FOIA requests for State and Defense Department communications, including external emails, regarding the strike that killed Soleimani as well as for legal analyses or congressional notifications about the strike. You can read more about our investigation of the Trump administration’s posture toward Iran here.

While a lot has happened in just the first week of 2020, the specter of war has not distracted American Oversight from its numerous other investigations — including, namely, the release of new Ukraine-related documents this week. You can read more about our impeachment investigation below, as well as everything else we’ve been working on.

New Impeachment Docs: On Wednesday, the State Department released a second set of documents in our lawsuit for Ukraine-related communications. The first set, released back in November, revealed contacts between Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani (with the aid of the White House) in the spring of 2019; these new documents cover the time period when the administration was actively withholding aid to Ukraine, and notably do not contain any record of Pompeo-Giuliani calls — even though Giuliani said publicly that he had spoken with Pompeo in September. The release does, however, contain letters between former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s counsel and Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao about the White House directive to not comply with the House’s impeachment inquiry. (Yovanovitch, of course, did testify.) You can read more about that exchange here.

More Docs to Come Friday: We’re expecting another set of documents from a separate State Department lawsuit today, this one for the calendars of former Ukraine special representative Kurt Volker. Be sure to check www.americanoversight.org for updates — we’ll be posting the documents as soon as we receive them, along with updates on what we find as we review.

Subpoena John Bolton: Former National Security Adviser John Bolton had refused to testify in the House’s impeachment inquiry, but earlier this week Bolton said that he was willing to do so during the Senate trial should he receive a subpoena. Given his stated plans to hold what will amount to a sham trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not take Bolton up on that offer. But House leaders should. As Molly Claflin, American Oversight’s chief oversight counsel, writes at Slate, “Witnesses with relevant evidence should not get to select how and in front of which friendly tribunal they share evidence.” Read more from Claflin here on why the House should prepare to subpoena Bolton.

OMB-Defense Ukraine Emails Revealed: Back in December, the administration released a set of documents to the Center for Public Integrity showing that aid to Ukraine was frozen less than two hours after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Last week, Just Security obtained the emails without the redactions, revealing that the order to freeze the aid came directly from the president — information that would have otherwise remained hidden underneath what we can now see are questionable redactions. Read more from American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers on how even with FOIA’s successes in forcing the release of Ukraine records, the Trump administration still has plenty of opportunities to obstruct.

Remember Scott Pruitt?: We’re sure you couldn’t forget the former EPA administrator with the habit of using taxpayer money for luxury travel and outrageous office upgrades. You might even remember the Washington Post story about how he traded in his official car for a larger, fancier SUV. Well, American Oversight has uncovered records indicating that at one point, Pruitt had the use of not one, but three vehicles. You can read more about the “saga of the Suburban” here.

New State Department Legal Adviser: C.J. Mahoney, the deputy U.S. trade representative, has been named as the State Department’s legal adviser, a role that has, of course, taken on increased political significance. We filed a FOIA request with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for his communications with various outside groups and individuals, as well as information about any meetings he had with them.

Trump’s Efforts on Behalf of Turkish Bank: Over the past year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan orchestrated a pressure campaign aimed at avoiding criminal charges for the state-owned Halkbank. And the campaign may have worked on Trump — he reportedly asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convince the Justice Department to drop its investigation of the bank’s financial laundering schemes, and told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr to speak with Erdogan on the matter. Halkbank has since been charged, but questions remain about the timing of those charges and about whether the investigation of Halkbank was influenced by external entities or Trump’s personal interests. We’re investigating.

For-Profit Colleges: Pete Hegseth, the Fox News personality who urged Trump to pardon U.S. service members charged with war crimes and who previously served as the executive director of the Koch-funded Concerned Veterans for America, recently spoke at a meeting of the Career Education Colleges and University, a for-profit college trade group. During his speech, Hegseth vowed to use his relationship with Trump to defend the “90/10 loophole” that allows for-profit schools to avoid a limit on how much of their revenue can come from federal education funds. We filed a FOIA request with the Education Department for communications between agency officials and outside individuals or groups, including Hegseth. And in our continuing investigation of CVA’s influence at the Department of Veterans Affairs, we filed a request for agency officials’ communications with Hegseth or CVA representatives.

Giuliani and the Ambassador to Hungary: U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein admitted in October that he had used personal devices to exchange text messages with Hungarian officials, including with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, making him the latest Trump administration official to have not learned a major lesson of the 2016 presidential campaign. Cornstein also has a close relationship with Rudy Giuliani, even having had dinner with him in Budapest during Giuliani’s December trip to Hungary. We filed FOIA requests with the State Department for Cornstein’s official communications sent using non-government accounts, as well as for his communications with Giuliani.

State Accountability Project: During a winter meeting of Florida elections officials, the state’s elections director said that there were significant delays in Florida’s entry into the Electronic Registration Information Center, a system that could identify millions of eligible voters who are not registered. We filed a request with the Florida Department of State for communications about the system, and have also asked a number of Florida county elections officials for their communications with members of the Restoration of Voting Rights Task Force who were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year. Another request to the Florida governor’s office asked for DeSantis’s communications with members of the Trump family or with the president’s re-election campaign.

Short-Term Insurance: In October 2017, Trump issued an executive order directing the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury to expand the availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance. Under the Obama administration, such plans — intended to be a temporary fix for people with a short break in coverage, and do not have to comply with various provisions of the Affordable Care Act — had been limited to a maximum of three months. The new rule, proposed in February 2018 and made final that August, extended that period to a year. Critics have expressed concerns that it leaves vulnerable Americans with substandard coverage, and we filed FOIA requests to learn whether health-care industry interests are influencing federal policy. (See also HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s calendars, which show his meeting with a number of conservative groups the day of the rule’s February 2018 rollout.)

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American Oversight Is Investigating Impeachment Adviser Pam Bondi’s Communications with State Department Official

Department of State
January 24, 2020

News Roundup: Evidence of Obstruction

Clayton County - Georgia, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Texas Senate
January 22, 2020

OMB Releases 192 Pages of Ukraine Records to American Oversight

Office of Management and Budget
January 17, 2020

News Roundup: The Evidence Continues to Mount

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Clayton County - Georgia, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, Hancock County - Georgia, Jefferson County - Georgia
January 15, 2020

Updated Timeline: Messages About Yovanovitch Surveillance Happened Same Week as Giuliani-Pompeo Calls

Department of State
January 13, 2020

Energy Department Agrees to Release Ukraine Documents This Month

Department of Energy
January 10, 2020

State Department’s Release of Volker Calendars and Text Messages Raises Further Questions

Department of State
January 10, 2020

In the Documents: Investigating the Trump Administration’s Legal Analyses for Potential Use of Force Against Iran

Department of State
January 8, 2020

State Department Releases Additional Ukraine Documents to American Oversight

Department of State
January 7, 2020

Did the Trump Administration Abuse the Redactions Process?

Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget
December 27, 2019

American Oversight’s 2019 in Review: Nine Important Stories We Uncovered

December 23, 2019

American Oversight’s Investigation into the Restoration of Voting Rights in Florida

Broward County - Florida, Collier County - Florida, Duval County - Florida, Florida Department of State, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Office of the Attorney General, Florida Office of the Governor, Florida Senate, Gadsden County - Florida, Hardee County - Florida, Hendry County - Florida, Hillsborough County - Florida, Leon County - Florida, Miami-Dade County - Florida, Monroe County - Florida, Palm Beach County - Florida, Taylor County - Florida, Washington County - Florida
December 23, 2019

An Update on Our Investigation into Georgia’s Election System and Voter-Roll Purges

Bartow County - Georgia, Carroll County - Georgia, Catoosa County - Georgia, Clayton County - Georgia, Cobb County - Georgia, Decatur County - Georgia, DeKalb County - Georgia, Dougherty County - Georgia, Fulton County - Georgia, Georgia Department of Driver Services, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State, Gwinnett County - Georgia, Hancock County - Georgia, Jefferson County - Georgia, Lowndes County - Georgia, Macon-Bibb County - Georgia, Paulding County - Georgia, Randolph County - Georgia, Rockdale County - Georgia
December 23, 2019

Texas Officials’ Communications with ‘Voter Fraud’ Activists

Cameron County - Texas, Dallas County - Texas, Harris County - Texas, Hidalgo County - Texas, Starr County - Texas, Tarrant County - Texas, Texas Attorney General, Texas House of Representatives, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Texas Senate, Travis County - Texas, Zavala County - Texas
December 21, 2019

Defense Department Ukraine Documents Released to American Oversight

Department of Defense
December 20, 2019

News Roundup: Beyond Impeachment — The Investigations Continue

Administration for Children and Families, Congress, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Government Accountability Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Management and Budget
December 18, 2019

Why Trump Has Met the Standard for Obstruction of Congress

Congress, Department of Defense, Department of State
December 13, 2019

News Roundup: Stephen Miller’s Extremist Network

Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Carroll County - Georgia, Congress, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Environmental Protection Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Office of Management and Budget, Texas Attorney General
December 12, 2019

American Oversight Sues for Treasury Communications About Russian Investment in Kentucky Plant

Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control
December 11, 2019

Lawsuit over Administration’s Unlawful Seizure of Trump-Putin Meeting Notes Moves Forward

Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration
December 6, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Report, Border Wall Contracts, and Pompeo’s Meeting with GOP Donors

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State
December 3, 2019

House Committee Impeachment Report References State Department Documents Obtained by American Oversight

November 27, 2019

News Roundup: Thankful for FOIA

Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Kentucky Office of the Governor
November 27, 2019

Behind the Scenes: How American Oversight Forced the Release of State Department Ukraine Records

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Office of Management and Budget
November 25, 2019

American Oversight Sues Justice Department for Ukraine-Related Communications

Department of Justice
November 22, 2019

State Department Releases Ukraine Documents to American Oversight

Department of State
November 22, 2019

News Roundup: Fiona Hill’s Warnings, Nikki Haley’s Emails, and Matt Bevin’s Stay at Trump’s Hotel

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Kentucky Office of the Governor
November 21, 2019

Nikki Haley Sent Classified Emails on an Unclassified Email System

Department of State
November 20, 2019

Sondland’s Testimony Highlights State Department Obstruction

Department of Energy, Department of State
November 19, 2019

Former DOJ Civil Rights Official Acknowledges He Made Incorrect Statement in Sworn Declaration

Department of Justice
November 15, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Inquiry Goes Public

Bartow County - Georgia, Carroll County - Georgia, Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Council on Environmental Quality, Dallas County - Texas, Decatur County - Georgia, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Veterans Affairs, Florida House of Representatives, Georgia Secretary of State, Harris County - Texas, Lowndes County - Georgia, Paulding County - Georgia, Travis County - Texas
November 14, 2019

How ‘Sharpiegate’ Turned a Simple Misunderstanding into a Media Frenzy — and Headache for NOAA Employees

Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
November 8, 2019

News Roundup: Ukraine-Related Documents, Hurdles for Asylum-Seekers, and Chad Wolf’s Involvement in Family Separation

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Office of the Governor, Office of Information Policy, Office of Legal Counsel, Office of Management and Budget
November 7, 2019

What We Learned from the Yovanovitch and McKinley Transcripts

Congress, Department of State
November 1, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Votes and Sonny Perdue’s Georgia Connections

Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Park Service
October 31, 2019

State Department Agrees to Produce Ukraine Records to American Oversight by November 22

Department of State
October 30, 2019

New Lawsuit: Secretary Perdue’s Ties to Georgia Industry Groups

Department of Agriculture
October 25, 2019

News Roundup: Court Chips Away at Trump Administration Obstruction

October 24, 2019

Research Tool: Ukraine-Trump Key Figures and Documents

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

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

Department of State
October 22, 2019

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

Department of Energy
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
October 18, 2019

Court Calls for Hearing on Emergency Motion for Ukraine Documents

Department of State
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
October 10, 2019

New Lawsuit for Records Related to Controversial Judicial Nominee Steven Menashi

Department of Education
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 4, 2019

Pompeo’s Obstructionism Won’t Work

Department of State
October 2, 2019

Pompeo’s Letter Is the Trump Administration’s Opening Salvo of Obstruction

Department of State
October 1, 2019

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

Department of State
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
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
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
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 12, 2019

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

Department of State
September 11, 2019

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

Department of Education
August 22, 2019

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

Department of Education
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
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
February 22, 2019

News Roundup: Wilbur Ross’ Uncertified Financial Disclosures

January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
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
October 18, 2018

Inside the Documents: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ Calendars

Department of Commerce
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
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
November 8, 2017

Statement on Interference in AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Department of Justice
October 31, 2017

American Oversight Sues State Department for Records Showing Efforts to Compel Mexico to Pay for Border Wall

Department of State
October 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

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
August 1, 2017

Statement on Waiver of Environmental Regulations for Border Wall

July 26, 2017

American Oversight Sues FCC to Obtain Net Neutrality Communications with Industry Groups

Federal Communications Commission
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
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
May 24, 2017

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

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 16, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

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

Letter to Burr and Warner: Senate Should Request Trump-Comey Tapes

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 10, 2017

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 10, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
April 26, 2017

American Oversight Seeks Release of FCC Net Neutrality Communications

Federal Communications Commission
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
March 28, 2017

Statement on Trump Administration Proposal to Build Border Wall South of Rio Grande

Department of the Interior
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
March 22, 2017

Statement on Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes’ Actions

March 17, 2017

American Oversight Calls on Congress to Investigate Trump Aide’s Reported Ties to Nazi Group

Office of Government Ethics, White House