News Roundup: Whose Stockpile, and Which States?

According to President Donald Trump, the federal government is merely a “backup” for states wrestling with frightening shortages of medical equipment and protective gear. In fact, he contends, governors critical of the administration’s mismanaged response to the coronavirus pandemic are just “complainers” with “insatiable appetites.” 

Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that the president, who downplayed the crisis until just a few weeks ago, is once again avoiding taking responsibility. Two weeks ago, he famously told governors in need of ventilators, to save the lives of their residents, to “try getting it yourself.” And it took him till last week to finally invoke the Defense Production Act, which allows the administration to stimulate production of such essential equipment.

Despite Trump’s claims throughout February and early March that the coronavirus would be just like the seasonal flu, emails we obtained and published earlier this week show that federal health officials at that time were increasingly concerned about the outbreak. “[W]e have a relatively narrow window and we are flying blind,” wrote one official on Feb. 28, around the same time the president was insisting the number of cases would be dropping shortly.

Meanwhile, state governments are approaching and experiencing the crisis at different, albeit intensifying, speeds, and news reports have indicated that states are receiving unequal treatment in accessing federal resources. One White House official even said that Florida’s electoral importance added weight to the president’s considerations of the state’s needs. We filed a number of public records requests this week for communications between federal officials and governor’s offices in various states. Requests have gone to California and Ohio, which have had more robust responses to the crisis; New York, Michigan and Washington, which are currently experiencing more severe outbreaks; and Florida and Oklahoma, two states with Trump-allied governors who have lagged behind in their responses. We’ve also requested the spreadsheet, reportedly used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for tracking state requests and shipments, mentioned in this Washington Post article.

We also filed dozens of other coronavirus-related requests this week, with a number of them focused on the pandemic’s effects on the most vulnerable, from those in public housing to students affected by school closures, to the millions of Americans expected to lose workplace health-care coverage even as the Trump administration said it would not, as it had previously considered, reopen HealthCare.gov for new enrollments.

Of course, the other side of the question of who will be most harmed is who most stands to gain. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — who addressed the nation about coronavirus on Thursday evening, saying the federal stockpile “was supposed to be our stockpile,” not the states’ — has reportedly taken a key role in the coronavirus response, and we want to know whether his personal business interests are also getting undue attention. We’ve asked for any briefing materials agencies have prepared for him about the outbreak, and also filed a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to shed light on the Trump administration’s negotiations with drug companies involved in developing vaccines and treatments.

Other FOIA requests we’ve filed in just the past week include:

Plus, we’re investigating Texas’s attempt to temporarily ban abortion during the pandemic — read more below:

Texas Abortion Ban: Two weeks ago, Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order requiring health-care providers to postpone all procedures — including abortions — “not immediately medically necessary.” We want to know how the governor and Texas attorney general arrived at their decision, including whether there was coordination with outside groups or the federal government.

FBI Headquarters Investigation: For more than a year, we’ve been investigating the president’s interference in the decision to rebuild the FBI headquarters at its existing location, which happens to sit just a few blocks from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. We have a number of related lawsuits against the administration for records, including against the Office of Management and Budget, and this week a federal judge found that OMB hadn’t conducted an adequate search for records, and ordered the agency to conduct a new search.

Politicization of the 2020 Census: This week, we provided an update on our investigation into the rollout of the 2020 census, including the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question. Among other requests, we’re seeking Census Bureau officials’ calendars as well as their communications with supporters of adding the question. We’ve also filed requests for communications with representatives of the Republican National Committee, which in February sent out mailers designed to look like official census documents. The Census Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the president and Congress in December, so stay tuned. 

“Farm Bailout” Finances: Since 2018, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided farmers $28 billion in aid to soften the impact of Trump’s trade war with China. Critics of this “farm bailout” have raised questions about how the USDA is managing these funds, including how the agency handles subsidy authorizations and why payments have been made to foreign-owned corporations. We asked the USDA for records concerning this aid, including records reflecting meetings with or guidance from officials at the White House.

“Abortion Extremism”: In May 2019, FBI Counterterrorism Division Assistant Director Michael McGarrity testified before Congress that the FBI considered “abortion extremism” to be a form of domestic terrorism. More recently, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that “abortion violent extremism” is now included in the agency’s categorization of terrorism efforts. We’re asking the FBI for communications containing key words related to abortion policy to shed light on the bureau’s decision.

Nigeria Travel Restrictions: In January, Trump added Nigeria to a list of countries whose citizens are banned from obtaining U.S. immigration visas. The Department of Homeland Security and State Department officials cited an elevated security risk in justifying the new travel restrictions, contradicting a prior statement by a government official that the decision was related to cases of Nigerian nationals overstaying their visas. The New York Times reported that Nigerian officials were “blindsided” by the policy, in part because of the existing security and information-sharing practices between the two countries. We filed FOIA requests with DHS and the State Department for records relating to these new travel restrictions.

U.S. Attorney Resigns after Revoked Nomination: In February, former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu resigned from the Treasury Department after Trump withdrew her nomination to serve as undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes. News reports suggest that Liu’s resignation and revoked nomination were related to Trump’s dissatisfaction with her work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC — specifically, Liu’s perceived lack of involvement in politically sensitive investigations, including the cases of Trump ally Roger Stone and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. We filed requests with the Department of the Treasury for Liu’s resignation letter, and to the Justice Department for communications between Liu and White House officials.

Voting Restriction in Florida: For the past year, we’ve been following the progress of the restoration of voting rights to individuals in Florida with prior felony convictions. This week, we filed public records requests in multiple Florida counties for communications between election officials and voting-restriction activists or groups — some of which have advocated against returning voting rights to previously convicted Floridians. We’ve previously made similar requests in Texas and Georgia, and will continue to track voting-restriction efforts across the country.

New Civil Rights Official at USDA: In March, Devon Westhill was sworn in as the Agriculture Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. Westhill previously worked at the Department of Labor and is a contributor to the Federalist Society. Last week, we asked both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor for Westhill’s recent resume, as well as for any of his communications with conservative organizations, including the Federalist Society. 

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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 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 4, 2019

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

Department of Veterans Affairs
Investigation Update
May 30, 2019

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

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update
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 28, 2019

Court Orders Trump Administration to Turn Over More Voter-Fraud Commission Records

White House
Investigation Update
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
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
February 23, 2018

FCC Commissioner Calls for Trump’s Reelection, Violates Hatch Act

Federal Communications Commission
News
February 6, 2018

Voter Fraud Commission Asked Texas to Highlight Hispanic Surnames in Voter Data

White House
Investigation Update
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 19, 2017

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

Department of Defense
Investigation Update
November 16, 2017

Maine Secretary of State Dunlap Election Commission Lawsuit

Investigation Update
November 8, 2017

Statement on Interference in AT&T-Time Warner Merger

Department of Justice
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 18, 2017

Austin Evers Discusses Trump Inaugural Funds on MSNBC

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
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
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
August 1, 2017

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
July 28, 2017

Watchdog Group Calls for Hatch Act Investigation of Gorka

White House
July 27, 2017

Call for OSC Investigation of Pruitt Travel to Oklahoma

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
July 26, 2017

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

Federal Communications Commission
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 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 13, 2017

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

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigation Update
July 12, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Pence-Kobach Commission Records

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, General Services Administration
News
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 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
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
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