Public Citizen Sues Trump Administration for Withholding Visitor Logs

Donald J. TrumpPresident Donald Trump’s Secret Service is violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and must release executive agency visitor logs, Public Citizen said in a lawsuit filed today in US District Court in Washington, DC.

Public Citizen filed three FOIA requests over the course of four months to obtain information from the Secret Service about visitors to four agencies housed in the White House complex. The Secret Service rejected or ignored each request. The responses indicate that the Secret Service has adopted an unlawful practice of withholding records, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the Secret Service to release the records and declare that withholding them is unlawful. Public Citizen is seeking visitor logs from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

In response to Public Citizen’s first request, the Secret Service claimed that the documents were not subject to FOIA because they are under exclusive White House control. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held in 2013 that visitor logs for offices that are not part of the president’s office, such as these four agencies, are subject to FOIA.

Trump wants to keep the public in the dark

“There is exactly one reason the Trump administration aims to keep secret the names of the people visiting the White House: It wants to keep the public in the dark about the corporate takeover of our government,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “Even so, the Trump White House’s refusal to turn over visitor logs that it knows it is legally obligated to release is particularly shameful, even by the standards of this administration.”

In denying Public Citizen’s first request, the Secret Service stated that it had transferred the requested records to the White House Office of Records Management, which is not subject to FOIA. Public Citizen therefore also is asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (PDF) requiring the Secret Service to maintain a copy of all visitor logs and other records documenting visitors to the OMB, OSTP, ONDCP and CEQ since Jan. 20, 2017, until the lawsuit is resolved.

“The D.C. Circuit has already held that the records we requested are agency records subject to FOIA,” said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney handling the case. “There is no legal justification for the Secret Service to withhold them.”

Learn more about the case.

4 Civil Rights Groups Sue Trump Administration to Prevent Collection of Voter Information

Four civil rights organizations have filed suit against the Trump administration charging that it violated federal privacy laws and is operating illegally in secret.

President Donald Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by executive order on May 11.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the vice chair of the commission, sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia on June 28, asking them to submit data from their voter rolls, including voters’ political party affiliations and voting histories from 2006 onwards, as well as voters’ names, addresses and dates of birth.

This is a shoddy commission, and the stakes are high,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They seek data on more than 200 million registered voters across the country. At the least, they should be complying with federal legal requirements’ governing the commission’s functions.”

A second suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charges that “the commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump’s false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election—once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count.”

This, says the suit, violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires from committees such as this that they convene a membership that is “fairly balanced” and shielded from outside influence.

Both suits charge that the commission has already violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets the standards for committee openness and accountability. Both groups allege that:

  • One telephone consultation that violated federal open-meeting requirements has already occurred and that the committee is holding back working papers and other documents that by law should be made available to the public.
  • Both object that the commission’s proclaimed first meeting, called for July 19th, will be viewable only on the Internet.

A third suit by Public Citizen, argues that the commission is violating the federal Privacy Act by designating the Army to collect data on voters’ registrations and voting histories and other identifying data, including partial Social Security numbers and birthdates. The group said that law barred the federal government from collecting or using any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” which covers voting and other forms of political expression.

A fourth suit was filed last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center charging that last week’s request letter violated the 2002 E-Government Act. Under the statute, the government must publicly assess the consequences of its actions before seeking personal information stored electronically.

Public Citizen lawsuit

Public Citizen sued the U.S. Department of the Army to block the collection and dissemination of information about voters’ political parties and voting histories. The President’s Commission on Election Integrity requested that states submit such information to an Army website by July 14.

The commission is asking that states upload the information to the Department of the Army’s Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) website.

In its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Public Citizen alleges that the Army’s collection and dissemination of the information violates the Privacy Act, which prohibits the collection, use, maintenance or distribution of any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

“The federal government should not be compiling information about citizens’ political affiliations and their exercise of the right to vote,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “Americans are right to be worried about who will gain access to the data and how it will be used. There is little doubt that the overriding purpose of the data collection effort, and of the deceptively named Commission on Election Integrity itself, is to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and to suppress voting on a massive scale.”

“The Army’s collection of this information will violates the Privacy Act,” said Sean Sherman, the lead attorney on the case. “Immediate action is needed by the court to ensure voters’ information is protected.”

Because of the upcoming deadline and the irreparable harm that would befall Public Citizen’s members if their information was collected and disseminated, Public Citizen is requesting that the court issue a temporary restraining order. Although many states have said that they will not comply with the commission’s request, at least one state, Arkansas, has already submitted information.

View the Public Citizen complaint.

ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Over Trump Election Commission Secrecy

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit over the lack of transparency by President Trump’s election commission.

“This commission is a sham. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, and this commission was established to sell the lie that he didn’t. The end game is to justify laws that will make voting harder for people, most likely minority and lower-income people. And the commission wants to do this all behind closed doors. That’s not only bad for our democracy, it’s against the law,” the ACLU says.

The ACLU is urging a US district court to force the commission to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and ensure all meetings are open to the public and written records are available for public inspection.

“The commission held its first meeting without notice or making it open to the public. This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Federal law requires that Commission meetings be open to the public, with timely notice provided, allowing for in-person attendance, and that written records be made available to the public. It must also adopt measures to ensure that its work is not inappropriately influenced by special interests or the president himself.

President Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, yet he promotes the lie that voter fraud is to blame. Trump, in turn, created the commission via executive order.

Kobach and voter suppression

It is led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU has successfully sued numerous times over his voter suppression policies. Kobach has been roundly criticized for attempting to solicit detailed information on every registered voter in the United States. He has not divulged how the commission would use — or protect — that sensitive information, which includes names, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, and voting history.

The commission will hold a July 19 meeting — only available via internet live stream — and has, by its own admission, held a previous telephonic meeting without notifying the public, as required by law.

“Our election process must be secure, fair, and transparent,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Yet the Commission is conducting its work deep in the shadows, making it alarmingly suspect. The Commission is legally required to conduct the people’s business in the light of day.”

Click to sign a petition to demand the transparency and accountability this commission owes the public. Make it clear we won’t let them hide behind closed doors while they try to restrict our voting rights.

The case, American Civil Liberties Union v. Donald Trump, was brought by ACLU National and the ACLU of the District of Columbia. It was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

More information is at:

Donald Trump Under Investigation for Obstruction of Justice

Reprinted from the Blog for Arizona

Wednesday was Donald J. Trump’s birthday. Late in the day the Washington Post delivered a birthday card to the president, verifying that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating him for obstruction of justice. Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said. [The third leg of this investigation.]

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on [1] Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for [2] any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the interview requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

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Democrats in Congress Sue Trump Over Foreign Business Dealings

ConstitutionReprinted from the Blog for Arizona

Nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress filed a federal lawsuit (.pdf) on Wednesday accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from business dealings with foreign governments.

The plaintiffs — believed to be the most members of Congress to ever sue a sitting president — contend that Mr. Trump has ignored a constitutional clause that prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts, or emoluments, from foreign powers without congressional approval.

It is the third such lawsuit against Mr. Trump on the issue since he became president, part of a coordinated effort by the president’s critics to force him to reveal his business entanglements and either sell off his holdings or put them in a blind trust.

Like the previous two federal lawsuits, this one, filed in federal court in Washington, accuses Mr. Trump of illegally profiteering from his businesses in a variety of ways, including collecting payments from foreign diplomats who stay in his hotels and accepting trademark approvals from foreign governments for his company’s goods and services.

But it creates a new group of plaintiffs who claim the president’s actions have damaged them: Democratic members of the House and Senate who say they have been wrongly deprived of their constitutional right to rule on whether Mr. Trump can accept such economic benefits from foreign governments, according to Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who led the effort with Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, provides: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

“The founders ensured that federal officeholders would not decide for themselves whether particular emoluments were likely to compromise their own independence or lead them to put personal interest over national interest,” the lawsuit states.”

“An officeholder, in short, should not be the sole judge of his own integrity.”

Mr. Trump now faces three distinct groups of legal opponents, each alleging they have been harmed in a different way. Earlier this year, private individuals who own hotels or restaurants or book events at hotels that they say compete with Mr. Trump’s joined a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a nonprofit watchdog group.

* * *

[E]ach new set of plaintiffs makes it harder for the Justice Department to defend the president on the grounds that his opponents have no legal standing to sue him, Mr. Trump’s critics said. “It puts the government in the position of saying that nobody can address this — not hotel competitors, not states, not members of Congress,” said Norman Eisen, the chairman of CREW, which started the legal efforts. “And you cannot get away with that in a rule-of-law system.”

Mr. Blumenthal, a former Connecticut attorney general, said the president’s companies did business in about 20 countries but were shrouded in secrecy, making it impossible for Congress to carry out its constitutional duty of determining whether he was receiving illegal benefits or emoluments. “The truth is we have no clue about the president’s investors,” he said in an interview with reporters Tuesday. “How much is Russian money?”

“What we are seeking first and foremost is disclosure,” he said. “We cannot consent to what we don’t know.”

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