News Roundup: The Evidence Continues to Mount

No matter how much the administration stonewalls, new evidence in the Ukraine investigation continues to emerge. 

This week, the House released records handed over by Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate who had been deeply involved in the smear campaign against former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. In extraordinary interviews with Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper on Wednesday and Thursday, Parnas said that President Donald Trump was aware of the efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him politically. And among the names of officials Parnas said knew about the scheme were Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and a vocal defender of Trump.

Many of Parnas’s allegations have yet to be substantiated, but the documents released by the House provide hundreds of pages of messages and conversations detailing months of Parnas’s work with Giuliani and his contacts with Ukrainian officials and Republican donors. Perhaps most disturbing are messages exchanged with Trump campaign donor Robert Hyde that suggest Yovanovitch was under surveillance in late March 2019 — the time that records we obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation show calls between Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the involvement of the Oval Office. (Given the concerning revelations, we filed a FOIA request this week for any threat assessment completed for Yovanovitch.) The records we obtained also show a call between Pompeo and Nunes on April 1, 2019 — a detailed timeline of Parnas, Giuliani and State Department contacts from that week in March is available here.

Pompeo said on Friday that he was not aware of any such monitoring of Yovanovitch “to the best of [his] recollection,” and Nunes has now said that he remembers talking to Parnas after previously saying he couldn’t. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan watchdog agency, issued a report saying the White House broke the law by withholding aid to Ukraine. That report, of course, was issued the same day that senators and Chief Justice John Roberts were sworn in for the opening of the impeachment trial, which was adjourned until next Tuesday, Jan. 21. 

Even with the Trump administration’s unprecedented blockade on providing Congress documents, the threads are continuing to unravel. And the continued release of records, specifically through the FOIA litigation of American Oversight, other watchdog groups and news organizations, will only bolster the case that the president abused his power for political gain and obstructed efforts to investigate him. 

The State Department records mentioned above, which were released in late November, call into question Pompeo’s knowledge of what was going on in Kyiv, especially with regard to the former ambassador. And Office of Management and Budget records released last month to the Center for Public Integrity detail the Pentagon’s concerns about the legality of withholding the Ukraine aid, which, of course, the GAO said did in fact violate the Impoundment Control Act. Just this week, the Department of Energy agreed to search for and release any records of Perry’s communications with high-level Ukrainian officials or with Giuliani associates. We’ve also been looking into the Justice Department’s potential knowledge of the scheme, and have filed FOIA requests for the communications and calendars of department senior counsel Brady Toensing, the son of Giuliani associate Victoria Toensing.

But as always, that’s not all — our commitment to investigating corruption and misconduct in all corners of the federal government as well as in the states continues. Read more below:

Chemical Industry Inside the USDA: This week, ProPublica and the Guardian co-published an article about how Rebeckah Adcock, a former herbicide-industry lobbyist who is now a senior official at the Department of Agriculture, helped Dow Chemical score Chinese approval of the import of genetically modified seeds. Emails obtained by American Oversight and the Sierra Club reveal the close contact between industry and Adcock — in an email about an upcoming meeting between Secretary Sonny Perdue and a Dow official, the lobbyist even joked to Adcock that she could “have a chair on both sides of the table.” Those emails are available here.

Injured Troops: Despite the administration’s claims last week that no American troops were injured in the Jan. 8 Iran missile strike, news emerged this week that 11 troops were medevaced to Germany to be treated for traumatic brain injury after displaying symptoms of concussions. We’ve been investigating the administration’s legal analyses for the use of force against Iran, and filed FOIA requests last week related to the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.

“Medicare for None”: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma has vocalized opposition to a public health-care option, including the Medicare for All policy advocated for by some members of Congress and presidential candidates. We’re requesting Verma’s and other CMS officials’ external communications containing terms like “Medicare for Some” and “Medicare for None.” We’re also asking for communications and calendar entries for meetings between conservative think tank groups and officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and CMS

Antibiotic Resistance: The World Health Organization recognizes antibiotic resistance, or the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotics to fight bacteria, as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food, security, and development today.” While the Environmental Protection Agency has approved new drugs as pesticides for citrus farming, other federal agencies have warned that expanding the use of antibiotics could increase the rate of antibacterial resistance. We filed a request to learn more about the external interests behind this policy change. 

Surprise Medical Bills: More than two-thirds of American voters said they are somewhat or very worried about surprise medical costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Private equity and venture capital firms are leading the charge against bipartisan legislation in Congress that bans surprise medical bills. We filed requests to HHS to find out whether these groups have exerted influence on federal policy. 

Voting in Florida: On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that people with felony convictions must pay off all fines and fees before they can exercise their right to vote, with many questioning the constitutionality of such a requirement. We’ve been investigating the implementation of the state’s Amendment 4 ballot initiative and subsequent state law requiring the payment of such fees; you can read more here.

Voting in Georgia: New questions about the security of Georgia’s voting systems arose this week, with news that the state election server may have been hacked in 2014. That server has been central to a lawsuit about election integrity in Georgia, and we have filed a number of open records requests about voting security in our investigation of the state’s efforts to ensure accurate elections. And this week, we filed new requests for directives sent to county officials regarding “get out the vote” groups.

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March 24, 2017

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March 23, 2017

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March 22, 2017

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