News Roundup: Who Stands to Gain?

New York City during coronavirus lockdown

Who stands to gain? That question is at the core of so many investigations into corruption and misconduct in the Trump administration, from agency officials’ industry ties to the president’s own financial conflicts. And as the administration’s tragically mismanaged response to the coronavirus outbreak continues to lurch onward, the answers to that question are more important than ever.

Hedge funds are claiming small business relief money. Anti-abortion rights groups are clamoring for new restrictions on abortion care. Partisan interests are looking for ways to reduce access to the ballot in the presidential primary and November election. 

American Oversight’s investigation into the administration’s response to the pandemic is looking into not only the early decisions that appear to have cost thousands of American lives, but also communications with external entities that may seek to influence the administration’s future decisions.

From the beginning of the outbreak, it was clear that President Donald Trump prioritized the short-term health of the stock market over Americans’ lives. On Thursday, as the number of Covid-19 deaths increased to more than 30,000, the White House unveiled “guidelines” for “opening up American again” that amounted to the president — who earlier this week claimed he could exercise “total authority” over the pandemic response — telling governors they could choose to reopen businesses May 1 or earlier. Meanwhile, the American Prospect reported that the Treasury Department had allowed banks to confiscate customers’ CARES Act stimulus checks to cover existing debts — a practice the veterans-serving USAA bank said on Thursday it will cease.

This week, we filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests with the Federal Reserve, the Department of the Treasury and the Small Business Administration for officials’ communications with key financial industry groups and bank executives, as well as for records from a White House meeting Trump had with bank executives back on March 11. We’re also looking into an arrangement the Treasury made with three Wall Street banks to advise on airline aid, and another agreement made for BlackRock to advise the Fed on the purchase of bonds and securities.

Abortion-rights opponents have also attempted to use the coronavirus outbreak to further their agendas, asking the administration to take steps to block abortion access as it responds to the pandemic. We’ve already been investigating Texas’s recent ban on abortion, and this week filed requests with the Department of Health and Human Services and Georgia agencies for any decision memoranda or outside communications about abortion access.

The past two weeks have also demonstrated the risks to voting rights, as officials in states like Texas and Georgia resist efforts to expand access to voting by mail. We filed a request for Georgia Secretary of State directives related to the decision to have voters pay postage costs on absentee ballots. (The state election board has since voted to allow voters to turn in ballots at drop boxes before Georgia’s June 9 primary.) And considerable outrage remains over the state supreme court having ordered Wisconsin to hold its April 7 in-person election, forcing voters to choose between their health and democratic participation — we filed a dozen records requests for state legislators’ and elections officials’ related communications.

But with Trump’s having ceded his “total authority” to governors, concerns remain about how individual states are responding to the crisis, especially Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis’s prolonged denial of the existence of community spread is looking increasingly ill-advised. To shed light on this delayed response, we filed records requests for Florida state agencies’ communications related to the spread of coronavirus, and we also want to know more about Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen his state’s beaches.

For more on what we’re investigating and what we’ve found, read on:

‘I Think I’m Going to Die’ — New Documents Related to Death of 8-Year-Old Boy in U.S. Custody: American Oversight obtained affidavits from Customs and Border Protection special agents, including one from an agent who interviewed the father of Felipe Gómez Alonzo, the Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody on Dec. 24, 2018. According to Buzzfeed, which reported on the documents, Felipe’s condition had worsened after he had been discharged from the hospital earlier that day. The affidavit released to us reveals that before he died, Felipe told his father that he thought he was going to die. You can read more about this heartbreaking story here.

American Oversight and Others Demand Oversight Provisions in Next Coronavirus Bill: On Monday, we joined other watchdog groups in releasing recommendations for greater accountability over coronavirus relief funding, including transparency on what resources have been provided to each state and what criteria were used by federal agencies in allocating those resources.

VA Sexual Assault Complaint and Retaliation: In February, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie dismissed Deputy Secretary James Byrne “due to loss of confidence” in his work. At that time, the department was facing criticism for how it handled an allegation by a House Veterans Affairs Committee staffer who said she had been sexually assaulted at a VA facility. A few days later, the Washington Post reported that a high-ranking VA official had informed the committee that Wilkie had tried to discredit the staffer, raising new questions about Byrne’s firing. Wilkie had also reportedly solicited information about her from Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who had previously been deployed with the staffer on the same mission while they were in the Navy. (A Crenshaw spokesperson has denied this allegation.) We filed FOIA requests to the VA for senior officials’ communications (including emails with Crenshaw or his staff) regarding the allegation, as well as for emails between Byrne and Wilkie in the days before Byrne’s dismissal.

Anti-Refugee Activist’s Influence: The number of refugee resettlements in the U.S. continues to plummet alongside efforts to block asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border and to ban travel from multiple Muslim-majority countries. Reporting suggests that Ann Corcoran, the activist founder of the “Refugee Resettlement Watch” blog, has gained influence in broader immigration discussions with figures close to the administration. We’re asking the State Department for the emails of specific officials with or about Corcoran.

Voting Discrimination Claims in Georgia: As part of our State Accountability Project work in Georgia, this week we asked the Georgia Secretary of State and the Georgia Department of Administrative Services for the amount of funds paid by the state to settle voting discrimination claims, including those brought under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. 

New Documents — Perdue Family Emails and Trey Gowdy Request: This week, we published USDA communications with U.S. senator from Georgia  David Perdue’s office as part of our ongoing investigation into Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s business ties with Georgia-based entities, including his own family’s company. The records include a number of communications in which Sen. Perdue’s staff shared with the USDA the resumes of multiple candidates for USDA positions. We also published more DHS calendar entries and email communications, including a 2017 email chain among agency officials about preparing a redacted individual’s USCIS immigration file (known as an A-file) for then-Rep. Trey Gowdy and the House Oversight Committee. 

John Gore’s Personal Emails: We recently published emails that former Justice Department official John Gore, who had been involved in the administration’s failed push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, had sent from his personal account. (You can read more about the story behind those emails here.) The emails include messages to an attorney at Jones Day regarding an ACLU sanctions motion that followed the discovery of files belonging to the late Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller — files that helped expose the partisan motivations of the question.

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June 4, 2019

Documents Reveal Extent of Koch-Funded VA Privatization Group’s Influence

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May 30, 2019

Trump Administration Appeals Court Decision Ordering It to Turn Over Communications with Congress About ACA Sabotage

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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
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
News
April 24, 2019

American Oversight and ACLU of Massachusetts Sue DHS for Border Security Plan

Investigation Update
April 2, 2019

Federal Judge Rejects Administration’s Argument for Withholding Communications with Congress about ACA Sabotage

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
News
March 13, 2019

Two Years of American Oversight

News
March 8, 2019

Watchdogs Sue HHS Following Women’s Health Website Overhaul

Department of Health and Human Services
News
March 1, 2019

HHS Secretary Azar Calendars Show Multiple Meetings with Conservative Health-Care Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
News
February 22, 2019

News Roundup: Wilbur Ross’ Uncertified Financial Disclosures

News
February 21, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks HHS Communications with Anti-Abortion Groups

Department of Health and Human Services
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 31, 2019

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

Department of Justice
News
January 24, 2019

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

Department of Defense
Investigation Update
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
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
October 18, 2018

Inside the Documents: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ Calendars

Department of Commerce
Investigation Update
News
June 6, 2018

USTR Emails Reveal Tensions, Inconsistencies in Trump Administration’s NAFTA Strategy

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Investigation Update
March 9, 2018

American Oversight Sues HHS and CMS for Verma Ethics Records

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services
News
January 12, 2018

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

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
January 2, 2018

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

Department of Education
News
December 20, 2017

American Oversight Expands Investigation into Tax Bill

Department of the Treasury, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
December 19, 2017

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

Department of Defense
Investigation Update
November 30, 2017

New FOIAs Seek Treasury Department’s Secret Tax Bill Analyisis

Department of the Treasury
Investigation Update
November 8, 2017

Statement on Interference in AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Department of Justice
News
November 3, 2017

American Oversight Launches ‘NAFTA Watch’

Department of Commerce, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Investigation Update
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 17, 2017

Health Care Lawsuit: Fighting for Transparency

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
October 4, 2017

DOJ Confirms Harvard Affirmative Action Investigation

Department of Justice
News
September 15, 2017

Congress Enters Legal Fight to Block Release of Obamacare Repeal Emails

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services
Investigation Update
September 13, 2017

“News to Me!” – Inside the Health Care Emails

Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
September 7, 2017

Third Set of Health Care Emails Again Shows Trump Administration Effort to Hide Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
September 7, 2017

DACA Announcement Reflects Lack of Seriousness About the Law

Department of Justice
News
August 2, 2017

New Health Care Documents Show Effort to Hide Details of Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
July 26, 2017

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

Federal Communications Commission
Investigation Update
July 20, 2017

American Oversight Sues HHS and OMB For Secret Trump Letter Outlining Plan to Weaken Obamacare

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget, White House
Investigation Update
July 19, 2017

American Oversight Demands Answers about Outsourcing of Carrier Jobs

Department of Commerce, Department of the Treasury, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Investigation Update
News
July 11, 2017

Investigation of Trump Administration Actions and the AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Department of Justice
News
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 4, 2017

Watchdog Files Lawsuit, Seeks Injunction for HHS, OMB Health Care Negotiation Record

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
April 26, 2017

American Oversight Seeks Release of FCC Net Neutrality Communications

Federal Communications Commission
Investigation Update
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
March 23, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Secret Health Care Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update