Americans deserve answers to important questions about the conduct of President Donald Trump and the policies his administration has pursued.
American Oversight’s efforts to expose misconduct and abuse of power have shed light on many issues — from the truth behind tragic deaths in immigration custody to troubling failures in the Covid-19 pandemic response — but we remain committed to uncovering more of the truth for the public. In this post, we catalogue some of the most important things we’ve uncovered about key policy concerns — and what we’re still trying to find out.
American Oversight is pushing for transparency and accountability as the death count from the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rise.
A massive trove of documents we obtained from the U.S. Postal Service revealed that a plan to mail out masks to all U.S. residential households early in the pandemic came much closer to happening than previously known. That plan was scrapped by the White House, according to the Washington Post. Documents we uncovered also show the federal government’s pattern of failing to support state and local governments as the coronavirus spread across the country.
Our records requests also shed light on how meatpacking company Smithfield Foods pressured the administration to help the company reopen processing plants despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases among workers and local health department orders to shut down. Trump’s April 28 executive order that allowed the plants to remain open mirrored language from a draft the North American Meat Institute had shared with the administration just the week before.
Reports of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in U.S. immigration detention centers and deaths in custody raise serious human rights concerns. American Oversight’s inquiries have already uncovered disturbing information.
We received the full text of the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General investigation reports for two Guatemalan children, Felipe Gómez Alonzo and Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died in Border Patrol custody in December 2018. Outside reporting and statements made by surviving relatives had already complicated or contradicted the agency’s narrative, but particularly in the case of Alonzo, the full text indicated that the initial summary released by the government was grossly oversimplified and incomplete. Sworn affidavits from Alonzo’s father and Customs and Border Protection agents who interacted with him, released in response to our requests, were covered by Buzzfeed.
Although the impeachment proceedings against President Trump ended in a questionable acquittal by the Senate, American Oversight’s efforts helped shed additional light on the president and his administration’s attempt to pressure a foreign country to investigate the son of Trump’s political rival Joe Biden.
For example, we obtained Department of Defense emails indicating that the “final decision” to withhold congressionally approved aid for Ukraine rested with Trump alone, contradicting the White House claims about why the military aid had been held up. We also obtained State Department records showing that Rudy Giuliani’s assistant leveraged White House channels to connect with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March 2019 — just as the smear campaign against U.S Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was heating up.
We also received emails showing meetings between then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a former campaign donor with Ukraine energy industry ties. Perry’s efforts to advance gas deals beneficial to his allies are closely tied to the events that resulted in Trump’s impeachment.
The integrity of the Department of Justice has been rattled by the actions of Attorney General William Barr and the calls by President Trump for the agency to investigate his political rivals and serve his personal interests over those of the American people.
American Oversight’s investigations have already shown that Barr was deeply involved in the probe of the origins of the Russia investigation led by federal prosecutor John Durham. Records we obtained through litigation showed Barr met with Durham 18 times in the seven months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation ended. Our documents also revealed that Justice Department counsel Seth DuCharme — whom Barr appointed this summer to be the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York — was closely involved in Durham’s investigation.
Barr has also repeatedly commented on the progress of Durham’s politically charged investigation, a break from longstanding Justice Department policy, even as the department has withheld documents about the investigation from the public.
We also uncovered new details about Justice Department leadership’s unprecedented intervention in the criminal case of Trump associate Roger Stone in February. Emails sent in the days before and after the Justice Department reversed its original sentencing memo reveal internal confusion among officials about the abrupt change and provide new information about who was involved in the controversial move.
Industry influence at agencies tasked with protecting America’s natural resources, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest that have alarming consequences for consumer safety, clean air and water, and the future of public lands.
American Oversight obtained calendars from senior EPA officials that shed light on the high volume of contacts between officials and industry representatives as the agency worked to undo decades of environmental regulations. Other documents we requested shed additional light on how EPA official David Dunlap, a former Koch Industries employee, was involved in scuttling an EPA study on the effects of formaldehyde, even as he was taking steps to recuse himself from the project. “This is very sad news, but not at all surprising,” wrote a retiring scientist heavily involved in the project, adding, “The years that I wasted working on the formaldehyde assessment are like a big hole in an otherwise fruitful and rewarding career.”
We also uncovered documents that appear to show Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — a former industry lobbyist who reportedly had to carry a list of all his conflicts of interest — traveling to a conference involving former clients, despite having been given contrary internal ethics advice.
Soon after taking office, President Trump, baselessly claiming that millions of votes were unlawfully cast for his opponent, promised a “major investigation into voter fraud.” A few months later, he established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which he packed with activists who had long promoted unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in order to advocate for restrictions on voting rights.
American Oversight represented a member of the commission who had been shut out of the panel’s work, winning the release of thousands of pages of documents to the commission member, who then made them public. The documents revealed that while commission staff had drafted an outline of a report alleging widespread “voter fraud issues,” they had failed to identify any evidence of such issues to go into the report.
The commission was dismantled amid several ongoing lawsuits in early 2018, yet the activists behind it have continued to be busy at the state level, as the president has continued to push the same allegations of widespread voter fraud. American Oversight has expanded its open-records work into state and local oversight to help expose threats to Americans’ voting rights.
In Georgia, our litigation forced the secretary of state to release thousands of pages of records related to voting rights and election administration, including documents showing that a newly created “Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force” had not found widespread fraud to investigate, as well as previously unreported communications with proponents of voting restrictions. Separately, documents we obtained from Gwinnett County, Ga., illustrated a larger problem of threats to the voting rights of people detained in jails.
In Florida, we obtained records about a conservative group’s attempt to instigate a purge of voter roles in Palm Beach County, sending county officials lists of voters who supposedly had voted after dying. Reveal used our records to investigate the group’s claims, and could find no instances of ballots being cast in the name of deceased people.
Our efforts also shed additional light on technical problems with Florida’s online voter registration system in 2018 — problems that again surfaced this year on the state’s registration deadline. We’ve also received a number of records about Florida’s ballot measure that restored voting rights for people with prior felony convictions and the poorly implemented state law that has kept thousands of them disenfranchised.
The Trump administration’s family-separation program has created an ongoing humanitarian crisis that is still keeping hundreds of children from their parents.
Public documents obtained by American Oversight show poor planning and confusing communications inside the Department of Homeland Security as the policy was carried out, from its initial pilot stages to its larger-scale rollout. Even as then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeatedly denied the existence of a family-separation policy, the documents reveal that internally, officials were discussing and preparing for its large-scale rollout.
In a particularly wrenching document, an official in the DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office circulated a memo in early 2018 evaluating family separations that the agency had undertaken up to that point, highlighting poor coordination among government agencies that led to prolonged and even permanent separations and “new populations of U.S. orphans.”
We’ve produced a timeline that details the key records we’ve obtained about the policy’s planning process and its deployment.
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