President Donald Trump, who this week issued a flurry of controversial pardons, has reportedly assembled a team of advisers to help him determine how to use his pardon powers. On Thursday, American Oversight filed a formal request to inspect the records of that group.
As a federal advisory committee, the clemency task force, which according to the Washington Post has been meeting since late last year, should make its records available to the public under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
The FACA statute requires that whenever the president or agency officials establish or utilize an advisory committee that includes members who are not part of the federal government, certain transparency requirements apply. The Post’s article about the group said that it is composed of a number of non-governmental members, including former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Democratic commentator Van Jones, the Heritage Foundation’s Paul Larkin, and Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney in Utah. Pam Bondi, who worked on Trump’s impeachment team, is also involved, as is Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
American Oversight sent a letter to Kushner on Thursday, asking to inspect “all records prepared by or made available to task force members” as part of the advisory committee’s meetings. We also explained that the clemency task force should not conduct any further business without complying with FACA’s transparency requirements. Copies of the letter were sent to the White House Counsel’s Office and the General Services Administration.
Trump’s decision this week to grant clemency to multiple white-collar criminals — including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2011, as well as to financier Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik — was roundly criticized. And with the sentencing on Thursday of Trump ally Roger Stone, many have speculated that Stone could also be the beneficiary of a presidential pardon.
“President Trump’s track record on pardons for friends, celebrities, and political allies reveals the extent to which he has created a special channel for justice in America,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “But while the president may believe this task force toils for him alone, it actually works for, and must be accountable to, the public. The task force must obey the law and meet statutorily mandated transparency requirements if the public is to have confidence in the fairness of its recommendations.”
This is not the first time FACA concerns have arisen around high-profile advisory committees in the Trump administration. In 2017, American Oversight represented Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in a lawsuit filed under FACA to prevent the president’s “voter fraud” commission from excluding Democratic commission members from participating in deliberations or receiving information. Documents obtained by Dunlap showed that the commission — which was dissolved in 2018 — had not found any new evidence of widespread voter fraud.