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

We’re exactly two weeks away from the deadline for the State Department to release multiple categories of Ukraine-related records in response to American Oversight’s lawsuit. Meanwhile, the House’s impeachment inquiry is gearing up for its public phase.

This week, impeachment investigators released a number of transcripts from the closed-door testimony of witnesses from the past month. The first two transcripts released, those of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former State Department Senior Adviser Michael McKinley, detailed the timeline of Yovanovitch’s recall from Kyiv and delved into the State Department’s failure to protect career employees from political retaliation.

We pored through those two transcripts to find clues about existing documents or communications that would be included in our more than 50 Freedom of Information Act requests, or in our current lawsuit against the State Department for Ukraine-related records. See what we found here. 

Other released transcripts included those of the testimony of George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Ukraine; George Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU; Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine (a position the administration has now said it plans to scrap); and NSC officials Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman. Sondland’s testimony was particularly damaging, especially the revision in which he admitted he told Ukrainian officials that U.S. military aid was contingent on a public announcement of an investigation that could benefit Trump politically. (In other words, quid pro quo; in yet another word, bribery.)

Of course, our lawsuit against the State Department isn’t the only FOIA litigation in our investigation of the Trump administration’s contacts with Ukraine — we’re also suing the Department of Energy, the Office of Management and Budget, and now, the Defense Department for records related to the withholding of aid to Ukraine and the effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation. On Friday, we filed another lawsuit against the State Department for Sondland’s communications. And, of course, this isn’t the only investigation we’re working on — read more:

Chad Wolf: Trump’s pick for acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, said this summer while testifying before the Senate that he had not helped develop the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. But calendars we obtained would suggest otherwise. In fact, they show several meetings on the topic, and NBC News reported on an email in which Wolf included family separation as a policy recommendation in 2017. The group Restore Public Trust, citing the calendars we obtained, called on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to refer Wolf to the Justice Department for investigation over alleged false claims.

The Florida Connection: Politico reported last month that indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas — whose lawyer this week said that he agreed to cooperate with impeachment investigators — had attended a number of campaign events with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prior to the 2018 election. Earlier this week, DeSantis’s office said he had likely met Parnas in May of that year at a pro-Israel event. We filed a public records request with the governor’s office for communications between Florida officials and Giuliani or his associates, including Parnas, Igor Fruman, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova.

Changes to Asylum Rules: In July 2019, Attorney General William Barr ruled that migrants fearing persecution because of threats against family members would no longer qualify for asylum. In his reversal of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, Barr wrote, “I conclude that an alien’s family-based group will not constitute a particular social group unless it has been shown to be socially distinct in the eyes of its society, not just those of its alleged persecutor.” We want to know whether and to what extent external groups like the Heritage Foundation or the Center for Immigration Studies has influenced Barr’s decision.

Changes to Asylum Interviews: In its continuing effort to make it harder for asylum-seekers to gain entry to the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security has given new authority to Customs and Border Patrol enforcement agents, allowing them to conduct credible fear interviews. Those interviews have traditionally been conducted by asylum officers within Citizenship and Immigration Services who have undergone more extensive training. Many experts have expressed concern about the change, fearing that CBP agents will not be qualified to handle sensitive interviews or make nuanced determinations that impact asylum proceedings. We filed FOIA requests with DHS to learn more about the training for CBP agents and about the interviews they’ve conducted.

Debt Collectors and the CFPB: In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule to amend a regulation implementing the Federal Debt Collection Practice Act. The next day, several CFPB officials, including Director Kathy Kraninger, held a private meeting with representatives of the debt-collection industry to discuss the proposed rule. We’re asking for CFPB communications about the rule or with representatives from the debt-collection industry.

Opening the Tongass Forest to Logging: Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest national forest and the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. Last summer, the Forest Service announced that it had begun a rulemaking process to potentially modify the 2001 Roadless Rule and creating an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule. On Aug. 27, 2019, the Washington Post reported that Trump had told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt the Tongass from logging restrictions after he privately discussed the matter with Alaska’s governor on Air Force One. Two months later, the Department of Agriculture announced that it wanted to entirely exempt Tongass from the Roadless Rule and open 185,000 acres to logging. We filed a number of FOIA requests with the USDA for related communications, including communications with the White House or Alaska officials.

Bernhardt’s Buddies: The Interior Department has proposed awarding a permanent federal water contract to the Westlands Water District — where Secretary David Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist until 2016. Earlier in the administration, Bernhardt pushed another policy that favored his former client, and American Oversight has been investigating his extensive industry ties.

EPA Document Destruction: The inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson was involved in the destruction of politically sensitive documents, including schedules and letters from lobbyists. (Here are Jackson’s 2017 calendars, if you’re curious.) The Trump administration’s EPA has had a number of problems when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act, from political appointees interfering in the FOIA process to new rules giving those appointees the power to oversee final responses to requests. 

Pompeo’s Influences: Last week, the Washington Post reported on a new Christian faith-based employee group at the State Department, another in a series of efforts “that critics worry are crossing church-state separation lines.” We’ve been investigating how Secretary Mike Pompeo’s religious and conservative influences may be affecting State Department policy — you can read more about that here.

Menashi Advances: “He’s different than I would have chosen.” That’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham said after the Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chair, voted to advance Trump’s nominee to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Steven Menashi. Here’s a reminder of what makes Menashi so “controversial” — far-right views on issues like gender and ethnonationalism, stonewalling of questioning, and promoting Secretary Betsy DeVos’s conservative priorities while working at the Education Department.

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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
News
December 12, 2019

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

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

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

Department of State, National Archives and Records Administration
Investigation Update
News
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
News
December 3, 2019

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

Investigation Update
News
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
News
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
Investigation Update
November 25, 2019

American Oversight Sues Justice Department for Ukraine-Related Communications

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
News
November 22, 2019

State Department Releases Ukraine Documents to American Oversight

Department of State
Investigation Update
News
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
News
November 21, 2019

Nikki Haley Sent Classified Emails on an Unclassified Email System

Department of State
Investigation Update
News
November 20, 2019

Sondland’s Testimony Highlights State Department Obstruction

Department of Energy, Department of State
News
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
News
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
Investigation Update
November 13, 2019

American Oversight Sues DHS for Cuccinelli Records

Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
November 7, 2019

What We Learned from the Yovanovitch and McKinley Transcripts

Congress, Department of State
News
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
News
October 31, 2019

In the Documents: Interior Department Officials Arranging VIP Tours for Trump Administration Figures and Allies

Department of the Interior, National Park Service
Investigation Update
October 31, 2019

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

Department of State
Investigation Update
News
October 25, 2019

News Roundup: Court Chips Away at Trump Administration Obstruction

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
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
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
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
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
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
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 24, 2017

American Oversight Sues Labor Department for Records on Efforts to Roll Back Overtime and Fiduciary Rules

Department of Labor
News
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 7, 2017

Investigating EPA’s Attacks on a Journalist

Environmental Protection Agency
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 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 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
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 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