FOIAing the Trump administration: tracking travel, investigations, and whether Trump’s cabinet thinks he’s a ‘moron.’

FOIAing the Trump administration: tracking travel, investigations, and whether Trump’s cabinet thinks he’s a ‘moron.’

Plus, completed requests on the Muslim ban and the hiring freeze

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Edited by JPat Brown

You can use FOIA to hold the Trump administration accountable by filing a records request of your own, following MuckRock’s “FOIA the Trump Administration” project, and joining our Slack channel to share ideas and get help with your requests. If you have a Trump administration related FOIA you would like us to highlight, share it over email, Twitter or Facebook and we may include them in the next roundup.

Keeping an eye on investigations into Trump and associates

When the existence of an investigation is known, FOIA requests can help track its progress and reveal potential conflicts and interference. Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington are using FOIA requests to keep an eye on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia. The resignation of U.S. Attorney Dana Boente could give Trump the opportunity to influence Mueller’s investigation, so CREW is seeking documents on why Boente resigned, as well as on the line of succession at the Department of Justice.

Knowing about the existence of an investigation, however, is only part of the battle. MuckRock contributor Emma Best filed a request with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for documents confirming the existence of investigations into Trump and his associates, which ONDI said it could not find. A simple google search shows that’s not possible.

The Trump transition

Celebrity author Michael Lewis has been making waves with his accounts of the Trump administration’s botched transitions at federal agencies. A key contention in his pieces about the transition at the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture is that briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration were largely ignored by incoming Trump officials.

Many agencies have released the transition briefing materials prepared for - and allegedly ignored by - the Trump administration in response to FOIA requests by MuckRock. You can view the briefing materials for the DOE and USDA transitions, as well as explore which agencies have and have not yet released them.

Trump cabinet travel

Trump’s cabinet officials have drawn scrutiny for their use of private planes to travel. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in September after it was revealed that he spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private air travel.

The Daily Dot requested complete travel records for each member of Trump’s cabinet and has received a few responses. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has spent over $44,000 on flights, often requesting first or business class seating. The Department of Housing and Urban Development claims to have no records of military or chartered air travel for Secretary Ben Carson.

Can FOIA tell us if Trump is a ‘moron?’

Free Speech for People, a constitutional law watchdog group, wants to know if Trump’s cabinet officials think he’s a moron. According to news reports, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Trump as such following a briefing about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Free Speech for People filed FOIA requests with the Department of State, Energy, and Department of Homeland Security for a variety of documents that might provide a window into these agencies’ views on the President’s mental fitness.

Completed MuckRock requests to explore:

Department of Agriculture - All communications from the Presidential Transition Team and Trump White House regarding public communication

Department of Energy - Responses to questionnaire from Trump transition team

San Francisco Police Department - Internal communications regarding Trump’s Muslim ban executive order and resulting protests

Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Positions unable to be filled due to Trump administration’s hiring freeze.

Pending MuckRock requests to watch:

Department of Justice - Emails to and from Sally Yates on the days preceding her dismissal

Department of Justice - Office of Legal Counsel opinion and memoranda on Trump’s Muslim ban executive order

Department of Business and Professional Regulation of Florida - Licensing complaints against members of the Trump family

Department of Housing and Urban Development - Fair housing complaints related to properties owned by Kushner Companies

Join our Slack channel to share ideas for FOIAing the Trump administration or to get help with your own requests.

Image by Shealah Craighead via White House Flickr