Clovis-Whitaker emails

Alexander Rony filed this request with the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America.
Tracking #

2019-DA-00943-F

Est. Completion None
Status
No Responsive Documents

Communications

From: Alexander Rony

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

I. Description of Records Sought

I hereby request the following records under the Freedom of Information Act:

1. Emails between Sam Clovis and Matthew Whitaker from September 22, 2017 to May 4, 2018. During that period, Mr. Clovis served as a White House advisor at USDA and Mr. Whitaker served as chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. You can exclude emails that were sent to a listserv where neither Mr. Clovis nor Mr. Whitaker were mentioned specifically as recipients. Please include any email sent between the two where other individuals were also included on the email chain.
2. Emails to or from Sam Clovis from January 20, 2017 to May 4, 2018 with "Whitaker" in the email body.

Please include any files attached to said emails. I prefer my request be filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Please produce the records on a rolling basis; at no point should the search for – or deliberation concerning – certain records delay the production of others that the agency has already retrieved and elected to produce.

If you determine that portions of the records requested are exempt from disclosure, I request that you segregate the exempt portions and deliver the non-exempt portions of such records. If the EPA denies all or part of this request, please cite the specific exemptions you believe justify your refusal to release the information.

II. Expedited Processing

Due to the questions involving Mr. Whitaker's ability to oversee the special counsel's investigation, I am requesting expedited processing of this request. The USDA's FOIA regulations (https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=158c0aaf13f675cfd80cc507cb30b2bb&n=7y1.1.1.1.1&r=PART&ty=HTML#se7.1.1_19) allows this when there is an "urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity, if made by an individual primarily engaged in disseminating information."

The regulations provide an example for how to define urgency: "Ordinarily this means a breaking news story of general public interest." Mr. Whitaker was named acting attorney general for the country on November 7, 2018 and placed in charge of the special counsel's federal investigation into foreign interference in American elections. It has been revealed that Mr. Whitaker has expressed skepticism of the investigation itself, and the president has criticized it as well, leading many to question if Mr. Whitaker will try to undermine or end the investigation. Mr. Whitaker maintains a close relationship with Mr. Clovis, who was a witness in the investigation due to his time as a Trump 2016 campaign aide. These items have received heavy media attention:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2018/11/08/acting-attorney-general-said-have-plans-recuse-himself-from-russia-probe/BGgZO2LGI3E84cEzPe3HSO/amp.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/11/bob-mueller-jeff-sessions-firing-matthew-whitaker/575248/
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/matt-whitaker-donald-trump-friendship-recusal-debate_us_5be59875e4b0dbe871aa2c8d
https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/415637-5-things-to-know-about-new-acting-attorney-general-matthew-whitaker

In addition to the breaking news aspect, the fact that a federal investigation's integrity is involved should require an expedited processing status.

As described below in the Media Requester Status section, I am primarily engaged in disseminated information to the public. I certify this to be true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 10 calendar days, as the USDA's FOIA regulations require for expedited requests.

III. Request for a Fee Waiver

I respectfully request that you waive all fees in connection with this request as provided by 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). The Sierra Club is a national environmental nonprofit with no commercial interest in obtaining the requested information. Instead, our organization intends to analyze and disseminate the requested information free of charge so that the public can meaningfully participate in the debate over the integrity of the special counsel's investigation.

The subject matter of the requested records is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government by disclosing details of the relationship between Mr. Whitaker, who as acting attorney general now oversees the special counsel's investigation, and Mr. Clovis, who as campaign supervisor of George Papadopoulos is a witness in the investigation. Mr. Whitaker is friends with Mr. Clovis from their history in Iowa politics. Some have claimed that this close relationship requires that Mr. Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel's investigation.

The Sierra Club and its supporters have demonstrated interest and expertise in the subject area, as the organization is committed to maintaining the integrity of our democracy, our electoral process, and the rule of law. We have active campaigns on each of these issues, and our supporters have written tens of thousands of letters to Congress regarding the special counsel's investigation.

IV. Media Requester Status

In addition to the public interest fee waiver, I ask to be properly categorized as a representative of the news media. The bulk of my professional duties at the Sierra Club entails planning and writing content about public policy, including composing mass communications to our followers, analyzing FOIA responses, and preparing summaries for press outreach.

I have previously written about the federal hiring freeze's impact on agencies:

https://sierraclub.org/planet/2017/05/trump-admin-policies-leave-700-cdc-jobs-vacant
https://sierraclub.org/planet/2017/04/hiring-freeze-prevented-epa-filling-hundreds-jobs

This work, supplemented by Freedom of Information Act requests, was covered in major media outlets:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/05/19/nearly-700-vacancies-at-cdc-because-of-trump-administration-hiring-freeze/
http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/epa-hiring-freeze/index.html

The Sierra Club has the ability and intention to disseminate the information it receives through this request. The information may be shared through emails to an audience reaching into the millions, Facebook and Twitter posts reaching tens of thousands of followers, articles on our often-visited website, and analysis provided to the media.

In the event that there are fees, please inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Alexander Rony
Sierra Club

From: Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Rony:

This email acknowledges receipt of your attached November 9, 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Departmental FOIA Office (DFO). The DFO is under the purview of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and serves as the focal point for USDA's FOIA program. The DFO provides coordination and ensures agency-wide compliance with FOIA. Additionally, the DFO processes requests and appeals on behalf of the Office of the Secretary and Departmental Administration's (DA) components (previously Departmental Management). For a complete listing of DA's components, please visit http://www.dm.usda.gov/agencies.htm.

The FOIA regulation 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i) requires USDA to make a determination in response to a FOIA request within 20 business days from its date of receipt. In unusual circumstances, the Federal agency time limit may be extended by 10 business days as stated in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(B). If your request seeks numerous records that will necessitate a wide ranging search including searches with components and possible consultations with components that have a substantial interest in the determination of this request, USDA will invoke a 10 business day extension for determination of your request. You have the option to narrow the scope of your request to limit the number of potentially responsive records. Due to the increasing number of FOIA requests received by this office, we may encounter some delay in processing your request. Pursuant to USDA FOIA regulations, Title 7 CFR §1.8(d), the USDA processes FOIA requests according to their order of receipt.

You have requested expedited processing. The USDA FOIA regulations establish two factors that must be examined when determining whether the applicable legal standard for expedited processing has been met. In accordance with 7 CFR §1.9(b), the DFO has considered these factors, as follows: (1) the denial of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or (2) urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if the request is made by an individual primarily engaged in disseminating information.

Upon review of your request and a careful consideration of the factors listed above, the DFO has determined to deny your request for expedited processing. The request does not meet the above threshold to grant expedited processing. In accordance with 7 CFR §1.8(d), the request will be processed on a "first-in, first-out" basis.

The DFO's denial of expedited processing may be appealed pursuant to 7 CFR §1.14. The appeal must be received by the DFO within 90 days of the date of the denial letter. The written appeal must clearly indicate that a FOIA appeal is being made and should be sent to: the Assistant Secretary for Administration, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Whitten Building 209-A, Washington, D.C. 20250-0103. The appeal should include a copy of the original request, the response to the request, and a statement of your reason for the appeal. To facilitate the processing of an appeal, the phrase "FOIA APPEAL" in capital letters should be placed on the front of the envelope.

Dispute resolution services regarding this denial are available via the DFO's FOIA Public Liaison, Ms. Marqui Barnes. Ms. Barnes may be reached at 202-694-1802, or electronically at marqui.barnes@ocio.usda.gov<file://wdcnetapp01/home$/ociousers/Cheryl.Kluwe/2017-OSEC-02356-F%20Eder%20(David%20Purdue)/marqui.barnes@ocio.usda.gov> or USDAFOIA@ocio.usda.gov<file://wdcnetapp01/home$/ociousers/Cheryl.Kluwe/2017-OSEC-02356-F%20Eder%20(David%20Purdue)/USDAFOIA@ocio.usda.gov>. There is also the option to seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration to inquire about the FOIA mediation services they offer. The contact information for OGIS is: Office of Government Information Services, National Archives and Records Administration, Room 2510, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland 20740-6001; email at ogis@nara.gov<mailto:ogis@nara.gov>; telephone at 202-741-5770; toll-free at 1-877-684-6448; or facsimile at 202-741-5769.

You have requested a fee waiver. Provisions of the FOIA allow USDA to recover part of the cost of complying with your request. Your fee waiver request is currently under review by the DFO. For purposes of fee assessment, you have been categorized as a "news media" requester, pursuant to 7 CFR Appendix A to Subpart A of Part 1 Section (5)(d). For your review and information, a copy of the USDA FOIA Fee Schedule is attached. In accordance with 7 CFR Appendix A to Subpart A of Part 1 Section 6(a)(4), your fees shall be waived where the amount of the fee is $25.00 or less. If your fee waiver request is not granted, you will be contacted before any fees over $25.00 are accrued.

A search will be conducted for records responsive to your request. If any responsive records are located, they will be reviewed for determination of releasability. Please be assured that a FOIA analyst will respond to your request as expeditiously as possible. We appreciate your patience as we proceed with your request. Your request has been assigned FOIA Case No. 2019-DA- 00943-F. Please refer to this case number in any future correspondence with the DFO. If you have any questions regarding the processing of this request, please contact Ms. Oyegunle at aja.oyegunle@usda.gov<mailto:aja.oyegunle@usda.gov> or USDAFOIA@ocio.usda.gov<mailto:USDAFOIA@ocio.usda.gov>. For additional information regarding USDA FOIA regulations and process, please refer to the information available online at www.dm.usda.gov/foia<http://www.dm.usda.gov/foia>.
The DFO Team appreciates the opportunity to assist you in this matter.
Sincerely,

Aja Oyegunle
FOIA Analyst
USDA/OCIO Contractor
Departmental FOIA Office
Room 4105
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington DC 20250
(202) 694-5982

This electronic message contains information generated by the USDA solely for the intended recipients. Any unauthorized interception of this message or the use or disclosure of the information it contains may violate the law and subject the violator to civil or criminal penalties. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify the sender and delete the email immediately.

From: Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Rony:

I received search records for your FOIA request late last week and am in the process of reviewing them. I will work as quickly as possible to complete this request and send responsive records to you. The DFO is undergoing a backlog, so this process is taking longer than usual. I appreciate your patience.
Regards,

Aja

From: Alexander Rony

Thank you for the update!

Sincerely,
Alexander Rony

From: Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Rony:

Attached, please find the Final Response Letter associated with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request you submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Departmental FOIA Office. A copy of your incoming request is also attached for easy reference.

Sincerely,

Aja Oyegunle
FOIA Analyst
USDA/OCIO Contractor
Departmental FOIA Office
(202) 694-5982

This electronic message contains information generated by the USDA solely for the intended recipients. Any unauthorized interception of this message or the use or disclosure of the information it contains may violate the law and subject the violator to civil or criminal penalties. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify the sender and delete the email immediately.

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