Washington, DC – In a highly unusual move on Friday evening, Congress forced itself into the legal battle over the release of emails detailing the closed-door Obamacare repeal negotiations – arguing that a set of emails between the Trump administration and the House Ways and Means Committee should be kept secret.
The Motion to Intervene filed by the House Ways and Means Committee, with the support of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House, argues that several emails between the committee and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should not be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“In a rare moment of bipartisanship, House leaders came together late on a Friday night to block the American people from learning the truth about the Obamacare repeal effort,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight. “From the very beginning, health care negotiations between the Trump administration and Congress have taken place in secret, and with talks reportedly starting again, Congress has made it clear that its first priority is to keep the public in the dark.”
American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against HHS and OMB in May to force the release of communications with Congress from the initial round of health care negotiations that took place earlier this year. A federal judge ordered the agencies to produce the requested records, and on September 5, HHS and OMB finished releasing over seven thousand pages of heavily redacted emails and calendar entries.
American Oversight has stated that it intends to dispute many of the redactions made by the Trump administration before releasing the records – which include the contents of emails between House Speaker Paul Ryan and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney – and a hearing has been set for November 2.
Friday night’s move by the Ways and Means Committee to intervene in American Oversight’s lawsuit represents a significant escalation in Congress’s efforts to shield the Trump administration from public scrutiny. Earlier this year, the House Financial Services Committee instructed twelve executive branch agencies to withhold any emails with the committee when responding to FOIA requests. Ways and Means sent similar instructions to at least one agency as well.
American Oversight has filed a separate lawsuit challenging the Financial Services Committee’s attempt to restrict public access to information. Under the FOIA, communications between federal agencies and Congress generally cannot be withheld from public release.
Evers continued: “From failing to investigate President Trump’s business profits and conflicts of interest, to Rep. Devin Nunes tipping off the White House about the Russia investigation, this is yet another example of Congress working to block public scrutiny instead of doing its job and holding the Trump administration accountable.”
On Friday evening, American Oversight announced that it will submit new FOIA requests to HHS, OMB, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine if those agencies coordinated with the House Ways and Means Committee regarding the committee’s motion to intervene in the original lawsuit.
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