Parallel Investigations Initiative FOIAs: Industry Influence, Denial of Reproductive Rights, and the Administration’s Family Separation Policy

As part of our Parallel Investigations Initiative, we’ve filed FOIA requests that mirror oversight letters sent by both the chairs and ranking members of committees in the House and Senate.

If Congress changes hands in the upcoming midterm elections, today’s ranking members could become the new committee chairs. If that happens, they will have the ability subpoena the Trump administration to answer their questions and turn over documents. And if the administration tries to duck accountability, we’ll be able to go to court to compel the release of documents in response to the FOIAs that we’re filing right now.

Here’s an overview of some of the parallel FOIAs we’ve been filing in preparation.

USDA Political Appointee’s Communications with her Former Employer

In November 2017, the New York Times and ProPublica reported that Department of Agriculture (USDA) Senior Advisor Rebeckah Adcock may have violated the terms of her ethics agreement by meeting with individuals working for her former employer, CropLife America, a trade group representing members of the pesticide industry.

Adcock testified before a Subcommittee of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee on November 14, 2017, and received a letter from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman following that testimony, asking for her communications with industry insiders.  

American Oversight submitted FOIAs asking for the same records produced to Rep. Watson Coleman, as well as any communications with Adcock’s former employer, to find out if she has been providing special access to industry insiders.

Influence of Uranium Companies at Interior

The Department of the Interior (DOI) recently classified uranium as a “critical mineral,” even though uranium—as a fuel mineral—doesn’t meet the accepted definition of a critical mineral. Ranking Member Raul Grijalva of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources wrote a letter expressing concerns about this designation. Especially in light of reports that the uranium mining industry pressed the Trump administration to shrink the borders of the Bears Ears National Monument, there is concern surrounding DOI’s designation of uranium as a critical mineral and the potential for mining in or around Bears Ears or the Grand Canyon.

American Oversight submitted FOIAs to the Department of Interior and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) seeking communications related to the uranium designation and the decision to shrink Bears Ears.

The Reassignment of a National Park Superintendent at Interior

American Oversight submitted two FOIAs to Interior to find out more about the reassignment of a Yellowstone National Park Superintendent.  We’re asking for communications between the Office of the Secretary or the National Park Service and entities in Montana, including the Montana Group and the United Property Owners of Montana, to determine if the superintendent was reassigned because of potential disagreements with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s political allies.

Retaliation against government employees who are perceived to have been disloyal to Trump or because of disagreements with senior officials is a pattern in the administration.

EPA Chemical Industry Interests

Senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce have expressed concern at reports that EPA worked, in conjunction with special interests in industry and White House officials, to suppress a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

American Oversight has been investigating the chemistry industry’s influence at EPA. We submitted FOIAs asking for records responsive to Rep. Frank Pallone’s letter to former EPA Administrator Pruitt regarding EPA’s work to suppress a report from the CDC on the health effects of perfluorinated compounds, as well as other communications with outside entities, including American Chemical Council, 3M Company, DuPont, Chemours Company, and Holland & Knight.

These FOIAs were submitted to find out whether industry groups have had an undue influence at the EPA at the expense of the health and welfare of the American public.

Navient Student Loan Influence at CFPB

We’ve already been investigating the Department of Education’s practice of favoring loan providers over students. Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is considering settling with Navient Corporation, a student loan servicer that CFPB has brought suit against for alleged abuses against borrowers, in a way that would favor Navient. A number of senators have sought records from CFPB to determine whether Navient has exerted influence on CFPB in order to lessen its penalties for its student loan servicing practices.

American Oversight submitted a FOIA asking for similar records, seeking communications between CFPB and any employee or representative of Navient Corporation.

Rudy Giuliani’s Communications with Purdue Pharma

American Oversight submitted FOIAs to uncover the role that Rudy Giuliani may have played in quashing federal investigations into Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the powerful opioid, OxyContin. In the early 2000s, Purdue worked with Giuliani’s consulting firm while Giuliani served as a consultant to the Justice Department (DOJ) on opioid issues and fundraised for a museum honoring the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Senators Maggie Hassan and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to DOJ and DEA requesting records of Giuliani’s work on behalf of Purdue. We sent requests seeking many of the same records, asking for communications from 2002 to 2008 between DOJ, DEA, and FDA officials and Giuliani, representatives of Giuliani’s firm, representatives of Purdue Pharma, and the company’s top executives. The FOIA requests also seek communications including the words “opioid,” “Purdue,” or “OxyContin” between political appointees at DOJ, DEA, and FDA and representatives of several prominent law firms.

Title X Family Planning Funding and the Gag Rule

In May 2018, HHS announced its plans to “update the regulations governing the Title X family planning program,” and released a proposed rule entitled “Compliance with Statutory Program Integrity Requirements,” stating that none of the funds appropriated for Title X may be used at places or programs where abortion is a method of family planning.

This has also been referred to as a “gag rule,” and many have expressed concerns that it would limit a woman’s right to obtain reproductive health care from certain providers, safe, legal abortions, and accurate medical information.

Senate Democrats, concerned that the administration might have been influenced by outside, anti-choice groups, have asked for records to find out more. American Oversight seeks similar records to shed light on the process surrounding HHS’s policymaking, and whether or not anti-choice groups are influencing the agency.

Center for Medicaid Services’ Decision to Deny Planned Parenthood Services

Brian Neale and Alec Alexander, Directors of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, and the Center for Program Integrity, respectively, distributed a letter to State Medicaid Directors rescinding a previous CMS letter from April 2016 stating that Medicaid beneficiaries’ have the right to obtain services from any qualified and willing provider, specifically Planned Parenthood.

The now-rescinded April 2016 letter was issued following a series of fraudulent, selectively-edited videos released by anti-choice activist David Deleiden to discredit Planned Parenthood. Despite subsequent congressional investigations which found no evidence of unlawful conduct by Planned Parenthood, a number of states nevertheless relied on the video footage to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood.

Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote a letter to HHS and Congressman Trey Gowdy referencing whistleblower documents they had received which showed that the anti-choice group, Alliance Defending Freedom, had instigated this policy change.

American Oversight submitted FOIAs to find out if outside, anti-choice organizations exerted influence over HHS policy decisions and the decisions by Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, and Louisiana to deny Planned Parenthood qualification to provide Medicaid Services. We also submitted a FOIA to HHS seeking communications with Alliance Defending Freedom and Casey Mattox.

Even More Spending at Trump Properties

We submitted a FOIA to the U.S. Secret Service seeking records of spending during President Trump’s July 2018 visit to the Trump Turnberry Luxury Resort in Scotland. Members of Congress from both the House and the Senate have called for an investigation into federal spending at Trump’s own properties. We’re also been investigating the ways in which the president profits off the presidency and submitted FOIAs asking for records showing the total amount of Secret Service spending, including overtime pay, golf carts, hotel rooms, meals, and the nightly hotel room rate they were charged.

Kathy Kraninger’s Involvement with DOJ’s Zero-Tolerance Family Separation Policy

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown sent OMB a letter requesting records related to Associate Director Kathy Kraninger’s involvement with the Department of Justice’s Zero-Tolerance Policy for Criminal Illegal Entry. These policies resulted in the separation of over 2,700 children from their parents.

Associate Director Kraninger oversees OMB’s policy and management guidance for DOJ and DHS and she’s now been nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We’re asking for records shedding light on Kraninger’s involvement in the implementation of DOJ’s zero tolerance policy, or any other policy related to the separation of parents facing prosecution for unlawful entry. We’ve also been investigating the administration’s practice of separating and detaining immigrant children.