FOIAing the Trump Administration: scheduling priorities and declassification via tweet

FOIAing the Trump Administration: scheduling priorities and declassification via tweet

Plus, completed requests on energy independence plans and #J20 protests

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

Many impactful stories about the Trump administration began with FOIA requests for administration figures’ calendars, meeting schedules, and visitor logs. This week, we take a look at what these logs and calendars have revealed about administration priorities, as well as an interesting FOIA lawsuit based on President Donald J. Trump’s tweet.

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.

Schedules shed light on administration priorities

Washington-based transparency nonprofit Property of the People had to file a FOIA lawsuit to force the release of White House calendars and visitor logs. The logs they obtained painted a picture of who has access to officials at the Office of Management Budget , as well searchable logs for several other White House offices.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s calendar shows a disproportionate emphasis on the alternatives to public education she championed as a conservative activist prior to her appointment. A 326-page calendar obtained through FOIA shows DeVos’s schedule favors meetings with advocates of diverting public school funding to religious, private and alternative schools.

Knowing the various records federal agencies keep to track how their employees’ spend their time creates opportunities for targeted FOIA requests to address specific questions. When the Department of Justice wouldn’t answer USA TODAY’s questions about the resources devoted to cases involving Trump’s private businesses, they filed a request for information from the internal DOJ case-tracking database. They were able to show that taxpayers are footing the bill for at least ten DOJ attorneys and paralegals to defend Trump’s ability to continue to earn profits from his private businesses while serving as President.

Administration officials’ calendars can also serve as a springboard for further requests on how access affects policy. The Sierra Club obtained records showing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry held closed door meetings with representatives of coal and nuclear energy companies. They then filed further requests seeing how these meetings might have shaped DOE’s proposal to subsidize aging and financially-struggling coal and nuclear plants.

Will Trump’s tweets open up the Trump-Russia dossier probe to FOIA?

A federal court is considering whether Trump’s tweets about the controversial “Steele dossier” on Trump’s ties to Russia could make the government’s probe into the veracity of the dossier subject to FOIA. The FOIA lawsuit , filed by POLITICO and The James Madison Project, argues that Trump’s tweets about the dossier make it so the government can no longer refuse to confirm the existence of a probe into its claims.

After arguments, it appears as though the case will hinge on the judge’s determination of how closely Trump’s tweets match the subject of the FOIA requests in question. If the judge rules in favor of the requesters, the case could have significant implications so long as Trump continues to tweet his frustrations with investigations into his conduct.

Completed MuckRock requests to explore:

Pending MuckRock requests to follow:

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

Image by Andrea Hanks via White House Flickr