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Washington, DC, April 23, 2020 –  Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today filed two lawsuits against the Trump administration for failing to release records related to the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuits seek records of White House efforts to control public information about the pandemic as well as emails of senior health officials concerning coronavirus testing. 

These are the second and third lawsuits filed by American Oversight as part of the group’s investigation into the Trump administration’s mismanaged coronavirus response.

Communications Directives Lawsuit

In the first complaint filed today, American Oversight sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and three of its component agencies to compel the release of documents regarding efforts by the administration to control the government’s public communications about the coronavirus pandemic. 

A link to today’s complaint is available here: LINK 

On February 28, 2020, CNN reported on Twitter that “Mick Mulvaney sent a government-wide email… saying all coronavirus-related comms must go through [Vice President] Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller.” That same day, Rep. John Garamendi told reporters that Dr. Anthony Fauci was directed to “stand down” and cancel five Sunday morning talk show appearances. More generally, the Washington Post reported that “the White House has been obsessed with a ‘communications problem,’ to the irritation of senior health officials focused on a measured response to the coronavirus.

In early March, American Oversight filed a suite of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with HHS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to determine whether the department’s public communications about the pandemic had been altered by the White House or shaped to benefit the president’s own political interests. 

The requests seek email communications between agency and White House officials involved in the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and any directives, orders, or guidance from HHS or the White House regarding public communications or press strategy. Today’s lawsuit seeks to enforce those requests.

Testing Records Lawsuit

The second lawsuit filed by American Oversight today seeks to compel HHS and the FDA to release emails sent by senior officials that contain key terms related to testing for coronavirus.

A link to today’s complaint is available here: LINK 

On March 18, American Oversight filed FOIA requests with HHS and the FDA seeking records reflecting email communications about decisions that affected the availability of coronavirus testing in the United States. Neither agency has released the records as required by law, so today’s lawsuit seeks to enforce those requests.

The United States’ failure to institute an early testing regime wasted at least a month, during which the coronavirus was able to spread largely undetected. American Oversight is seeking to shed light on what happened during that time and the extent to which senior political officials in the Trump administration were involved in key decisions about testing for the virus.

Weekly Coronavirus Investigation Update

American Oversight has filed more than 200 public records requests with federal and state government agencies to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus — and whether mismanagement has put lives at risk, and whether the White House has placed the president’s own political interests over the health of the public.

You can view our current and future requests and the documents we uncover, and read more about our investigation, here: LINK

Below is a summary of the new areas of investigation we’ve focused on this week. More information on our full suite of inquiries and a comprehensive list of our coronavirus-related FOIA requests are available here: LINK

Stimulus Signature Delay: On Thursday, April 14, the Treasury Department confirmed that President Trump’s signature would appear in the memo section of the stimulus checks that will be sent to millions of Americans as part of the CARES Act. American Oversight is investigating how this decision was made, and if the unprecedented and unnecessary addition of the president’s signature caused any delay in the disbursement of the stimulus. Key FOIA requests filed by American Oversight include: 

  • FOIA to the Department of the Treasury seeking analyses of additional delays and costs associated with adding President Trump’s signature to coronavirus stimulus checks. LINK
  • FOIA to the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seeking records reflecting directives from the White House to add President Trump’s signature to coronavirus stimulus checks. LINK
  • FOIA to the Treasury and the IRS seeking officials’ emails regarding delays and costs associated with adding President Trump’s signature to coronavirus stimulus checks. LINK

Animal Agriculture Industry Safety: Slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, and other protein industry facilities have proven to be particularly vulnerable to concentrations of coronavirus cases, as well as hotspots for human-to-human transmission. American Oversight is investigating what measures the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken to ensure worker and food safety during the coronavirus pandemic. Key FOIA requests filed by American Oversight include: 

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  • FOIA request to USDA for communications with protein (meat, egg, dairy) industry groups and government officials with COVID-19 outbreaks in their states. LINK
  • FOIA request to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking for data on processing plant inspectors’ wellness and protective equipment, and any guidance related to protein processing plants in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. LINK
  • FOIA request to FSIS asking for the agency’s “Human Pandemic Operations Plan.” LINK

Influence over Vaccines and Treatments: President Trump has contradicted the medical community and his own advisers by promoting controversial and unproven treatments for the coronavirus, raising concerns about his motivations and the politicization of medical and scientific decision-making. This week American Oversight filed a suite of requests to shed light on how outside entities and private interests may have influenced the administration’s handling of potential coronavirus treatments. Key FOIA requests filed by American Oversight include:

  • FOIA to HHS seeking communications with companies developing vaccines or treatments for coronavirus. LINK
  • FOIA to the Office of Management and Budget seeking communications with companies developing vaccines or treatments for coronavirus. LINK
  • FOIA to HHS, FDA, and the Department of Defense regarding directives about treatments for coronavirus. LINK

Other Requests: Other notable FOIA requests filed by American Oversight this week include: 

  • FOIA to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative regarding imports of drugs for coronavirus. LINK
  • FOIA request to the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking supply records for coronavirus tests, ventilators, surgical masks, and respirator masks. LINK
  • FOIA to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for the agency’s spreadsheet tracking hospitals’ capacities and needs. LINK

American Oversight is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit ethics watchdog and is the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration. American Oversight has filed more than 100 public records lawsuits since March 2017, uncovering and publishing tens of thousands of documents exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, and misuse of taxpayer resources at the highest levels of the government. In 2019, American Oversight launched its State Accountability Project to investigate voter suppression and has filed dozens of records requests in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.