News Roundup: Trump, Giuliani, and Ukraine

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“Unprecedented” is a word that has been used a lot in the past few years. It describes President Donald Trump’s financial conflicts of interest, his administration’s close ties to industry and special interests and its attacks on voting rights. And on Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff used the word to describe the refusal by the acting director of national intelligence to share with Congress a “potentially explosive” whistleblower complaint.

A week ago, Schiff issued a subpoena to Joseph Maguire, the acting director, to compel the release of the complaint, which last night was reported to involve Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson had reviewed the complaint and marked it as being of “urgent concern,” a threshold requiring notification of congressional oversight committees. Maguire’s refusal to cooperate, Schiff said, was “because he is being instructed not to, that this involved a higher authority.”

The Ukrainian government, of course, has been the target of efforts by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who has been publicly pushing Ukraine to investigate the son of former vice president and Trump’s potential election opponent Joe Biden. Last month, Giuliani secretly talked to a Ukrainian official with the help of the State Department, and the administration held up $250 million in military aid to Ukraine before backing off last week and allowing the aid package to be released.

American Oversight has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about Giuliani’s efforts on behalf of the president and the extent to which he was aided by administration officials. Today, in light of the news, we filed a request for them to be processed on an expedited basis.

Meanwhile, the contents of the complaint — and of the “promise” Trump reportedly made to a foreign leader — are unknown as of Friday afternoon, including to congressional oversight committees. 

The White House’s resistance to congressional oversight is, yes, unprecedented. Trump has publicly vowed to fight “all the subpoenas,” and White House counsel has said that current and former administration officials would not be permitted to testify before Congress.

In June, American Oversight launched our investigation of the executive branch’s obstruction of Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight, and the failure of multiple agencies to turn over documents prompted us to sue the administration this week for the records. We filed lawsuits against the General Services Administration and the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and the Treasury, seeking communications with agency officials and the White House counsel’s office about congressional investigations.

Here’s what else has happened this week, as we investigate the — routinely unprecedented — wrongdoing of the Trump administration:

Kobach’s Emails to ICE: The Kansas City Star reported this past week on emails we obtained that show that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach attempted in 2017 to use his connections at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to find out the immigration status of nearly 300 Nebraska residents. Kobach, who was trying to enforce a local ordinance prohibiting landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, also hinted that the agency could use the information for enforcement actions. You can read more here.

Kavanaugh Investigation: According to new reporting on the FBI’s investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged past sexual misconduct, the FBI failed to interview more than two dozen people whose names were provided by the lawyers of Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate who said that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a party. The reporting also found that the FBI was told of a second allegation, not made public before Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, but that the bureau did not investigate it. We’ve requested an expedited review of a FOIA request for information about the interviews the FBI did conduct in its investigation.

Abuse of Pardon Power: Last month’s revelations that Trump had promised pardons for subordinates who break the law in his push to fast-track border-wall construction wasn’t the first time news broke of his potential abuse of presidential pardon powers. Back in June, we filed a FOIA request for information about a meeting Trump had with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, in which he reportedly made a similar promise. We’ve asked the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers for communications related to “pardons” or “clemency.”

EEOC Staffing: According to documents obtained by American Oversight, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigators who look into civil rights complaints has dropped to its lowest in at least nine years. Politico reported on the decline.

“Hill Stunt”: That’s how Homeland Security officials dismissed Senator Jeff Merkley’s 2018 visit to a migrant detention facility. We found emails exchanged by multiple DHS officials, including then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, about the visit.

Congress Investigates Chao: This week, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indicating that it is investigating “several allegations” of conflicts of interest. We have her calendars, which show that her actions on behalf of her family’s shipping company included a photo session with her father at the Transportation Department, and we uncovered evidence that her office had coordinated with the office of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to give preferential treatment to Kentucky-specific requests.

Texas Elections Officials: We obtained new documents that offer an inside look at the troublingly close relationships between Texas election officials and voting-restriction advocates, including emails from Hans von Spakovsky, who runs the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative. Spakovsky asked the Texas secretary of state’s office for help with his organization’s “ongoing election integrity initiative,” a database of alleged examples of voter fraud.

NRA Influence: Despite the ongoing gun violence crisis, and the all-too-frequent mass shootings that capture the nation’s attention, federal inaction on gun control remains the norm — a sign of the National Rifle Association’s continued power and influence. We’ve filed FOIA requests with the Department of Health and Human Services for officials’ communications with NRA representatives.

Trump’s Interference at the Fed: As the Federal Reserve moved to lower interest rates this week, Chairman Jerome Powell has had to contend with more angry tweets from the president. Trump’s tweet accusing Powell of lacking “guts” and “vision” is not the first such attack on the chairman, and JPMorgan Chase has even created a volatility index called the “Volfefe Index” to quantify the effect these tweets and others can have on financial markets. We want to know how Fed officials are reacting to these tweets, and filed a FOIA request for communications.

Anti-Muslim Influence: Along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, we’re investigating whether the work of USAID political appointee John Barsa, who previously worked on anti-terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, has been influenced by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups. Barsa reportedly played a role in the decision to cut a grant for a Muslim-American advocacy group, and is married to a lobbyist for ACT for America, a group SPLC has found pushes anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and conflates mainstream and radical Islam.

Anti-Discrimination Protections: In August, lawmakers wrote to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for information about a new proposal that would exempt financial technology companies from complying with consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws. We’re asking for any CFPB communications with anti-LGBTQ groups to see whether outside entities influenced this decision.

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February 14, 2020

News Roundup: Trump Has Learned His ‘Lesson’

Central Intelligence Agency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Federal Reserve, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Kentucky Office of the Governor, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Wisconsin Senate, Wisconsin State Assembly
February 14, 2020

New Lawsuit Seeks Records of Complaints About Mike Pompeo’s Conduct

Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State
February 11, 2020

The Facts Are Still Coming Out

Department of Defense, White House - Office of Management and Budget
February 11, 2020

The Ukraine Investigation’s Unanswered Questions

Congress, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State
February 10, 2020

Ukraine Investigation Update: Volker Text Messages

Department of State
February 7, 2020

News Roundup: Acquittal Isn’t the End

Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State, Florida Department of State, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, White House - Office of Management and Budget
February 6, 2020

The Investigation Continues: New Lawsuit Seeks Pence Ukraine Records

Department of State
February 5, 2020

Statement on Senate Impeachment Vote: Oversight Must and Will Continue

Congress
February 4, 2020

Energy Department Releases New Batch of Ukraine Documents

Department of Energy
January 31, 2020

News Roundup: Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, DOJ - Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Texas - Harris County, Texas Office of the Governor
January 31, 2020

Lifted Redactions Reveal August 2019 Esper Communications About Zelensky, Ukraine Assistance

Department of Defense, White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 28, 2020

Energy Department Releases Ukraine Documents to American Oversight

Department of Energy
January 27, 2020

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

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

OMB Releases 192 Pages of Ukraine Records to American Oversight

White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 17, 2020

News Roundup: The Evidence Continues to Mount

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

News Roundup: Presidential War Powers and New Impeachment Documents

Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida - Hernando County, Florida - Nassau County, Florida - Okaloosa County, Florida - Seminole County, Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Governor, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
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, White House - Office of Management and Budget
December 27, 2019

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

December 21, 2019

Defense Department Ukraine Documents Released to American Oversight

Department of Defense
December 20, 2019

News Roundup: Beyond Impeachment — The Investigations Continue

Congress, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 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, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOL - Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Federal Communications Commission, Government Accountability Office, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, White House - 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

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

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

Department of the Treasury, 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, Kentucky Office of the Governor, USDA - Food Safety and Inspection Service
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, White House - 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, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, 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 15, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Inquiry Goes Public

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

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

Commerce - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce
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, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - Office of Legal Counsel, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Office of the Governor, White House - Office of Management and Budget
November 7, 2019

What We Learned from the Yovanovitch and McKinley Transcripts

Congress, Department of State
October 31, 2019

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

Department of State
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

Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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

Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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

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

Commerce - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, DOI - Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Florida - Collier County, White House - Council on Environmental Quality, White House - Office of Management and Budget
September 25, 2019

Release of Trump–Zelensky Call Readout Raises Questions About Justice Department Involvement

Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, U.S. Agency for International Development
September 12, 2019

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

Department of State
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, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration
March 12, 2019

Investigating the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

Commerce - International Trade Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
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

Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection
February 9, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks DHS Border Wall Emails with White House, Fox News, Border States

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
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, DOJ - 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 21, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

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

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

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
June 16, 2017

Watchdog Group Files Lawsuit on Trump Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, White House - Office of Management and Budget
May 24, 2017

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

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

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

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

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

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

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 10, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation
April 19, 2017

American Oversight Sues DOJ for Release of Trump Tower Wiretap Records, Russia Investigation Documents

Department of Justice, DOJ - 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