Property of the People has just filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the Bureau’s failure to comply with the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on the FBI’s, cyber-enabled surveillance platform named “Gravestone”.
Eugene Scalia is an anti-Dodd-Frank attorney who regularly challenges legislation meant to regulate the financial sector. Gary D. Cohn is an investment banker who was formerly the president of Goldman Sachs. Charles Schwab is, well, Charles Schwab.
What do all these individuals have in common?
Mick Mulvaney, the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been meeting with them over the course of the year according to official White House visitor logs.
Property of the People, in May 2017, requested the appointment books and visitor logs for the heads of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and four other offices within the Executive Office of the President. Despite the White House’s efforts to block access to the visitor logs, Property of the People successfully sued for access. With the help of ProPublica, the logs are now organized in a user-friendly, text-searchable database located here.
John Michael (“Mick”) Mulvaney, Director of OMB, has between a handful and a dozen of appointments on any given day reflected in the visitor logs. Many of these are innocuous. Laced in between interviews with ABC’s Good Morning America and appearances on FOX News, however, are meetings and phone calls with individuals and entities that Mulvaney is now –vexingly – tasked with regulating.
On November 24th, 2017, Donald Trump picked Mulvaney to become the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This spearheaded a dizzying confusion as to who actually now runs the CFPB. Outgoing Director Richard Cordray appointed the agency’s chief of staff Leandra English as deputy director, meaning that she was to take over upon Cordray’s departure. Things were looking good for English, given the precise language of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 which mandates that the CFPB’s deputy director shall serve as acting Director in the absence of the actual Director.
On November 28th, however, a Trump-appointed judge granted the position to Mulvaney.
Compound this apparent circumvention of the law with the contents of the White House visitor logs and there emerges good grounds for concern about how Mulvaney’s new role will affect the future of consumer protection.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was founded in 2010, born out of the Dodd Frank Act in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The CFPB’s primary goal is to monitor banks, lenders, debt collectors, insurance companies, and a host of other financial companies in order to protect consumers and regulate the financial sector.
Not only is Mulvaney’s appointment to the CFPB alarming given both President Trump’s desire to de-regulate and Mulvaney’s own statements in which he referred to the agency as a “sick, sad” joke, but Mulvaney’s contacts with the financial sector stand to truly negate the letter and spirit of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB, especially if they continue.
In addition to the aforementioned meetings, Mulvaney met with Jamie Dimon (CEO of JP Morgan Chase), Micah Green (banking lobbyist), Andy Cecere (CEO of U.S. Bank), Steven Mnuchin (finance chairman for Trump’s campaign), and others who stand to benefit from a feeble, fangless CFPB. Property of the People will continue to monitor Mulvaney’s contacts and dealings in his new position.
The CFPB, since its inception, has returned nearly 12 billion dollars back to nearly 30 million consumers. Property of the People hopes this trend continues and we intend to vigilantly do our part to ensure it does.
 Mulvaney had a phone call with Scalia on February 24, 2017, two meetings with Cohn on March 9,, 2017 and March 15, 2017, respectively, and met with Schwab on May 19, 2017.
 S 1011(b)(5) of Dodd-Frank says the deputy director shall “serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director.”
On Monday, December 11, 2017, Property of the People mailed a letter to the General Services Administration’s Committee Management Secretariat asking that Christy McCormick be terminated from the President’s Advisory Committee on Election Integrity.
52 U.S.C. § 20923(d)(2), which governs the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, explicitly states that “[n]o member appointed to the Commission under subsection (a) may engage in any other business, vocation, or employment while serving as a member of the Commission and shall terminate or liquidate such business, vocation, or employment before sitting as a member of the Commission.”
Christy McCormick serves on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). McCormick was also appointed to serve on the President’s Advisory Committee on Election Integrity (PACEI).
McCormick’s dual positions matter not only because they violate the letter of the law, but also the spirit.
The EAC is an independent agency. When Congress creates independent agencies, it is with the intention that their officers discharge their duties independently of presidential control. Influence from the executive, whether direct or indirect, must not enter the calculus of the officer’s decision-making. This concept dates back to the very founding of our nation. McCormick’s service on the PACEI, a commission created by President Donald Trump, himself, threatens to blight McCormick’s service on the nonpartisan, independent EAC.
We are in a moment where confidence in the American electoral system is profoundly low. Preserving the credibility of the bodies tasked with overseeing voting policy is critical for future elections, and as such, Christy McCormick cannot be allowed to hold dual positions at the EAC and PACEI.
The only way to resolve this circumvention of federal law is for Commissioner McCormick to resign from the PACEI. That is why we asked the General Services Administration Committee Management Secretariat, given their primary role in monitoring compliance of federal advisory committees, to take immediate action on this matter.
Partnership with ProPublica Makes 8,807 Meeting Records from the Executive Office of the President Searchable Online
Access the Searchable Records HERE
Download the Raw Data HERE
Washington, DC — Property of the People, in partnership with ProPublica, published a searchable online database of 8,807 records today comprising meeting logs and calendar entries for five White House offices.
In a move roundly criticized by journalists and transparency groups, on April 14th, 2017, the Trump administration announced it was abandoning the Obama-era policy of making White House visitor logs open for public inspection. Seeking to restore public access to these crucial records, the Washington, D.C.-based transparency organization Property of the People filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with numerous White House offices, and filed suit against some of these offices for failure to comply with the group’s requests.
As a result, Property of the People obtained large portions of these White House visitor logs and calendars. In a publishing and development partnership with ProPublica, a searchable database containing 8,807 entries from these White House visitor logs and calendars was created for journalists and concerned citizens. The release contains entries spanning January 20, 2017 to September 6, 2017, which represent a large portion of the meetings taken by the White House’s executive Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
Just one of hundreds of pages of hand written visitors logs Property of the People obtained from the executive office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). ProPublica worked to digitize these records and thousands of others to forensically reconstruct the bulk of Trump’s White House visitor logs. A searchable database of the records is available via ProPublica HERE.
Within these records are revelations both small and large. Today ProPublica leads with reporting based on the released documents that upon arrival at OMB director Mick Mulvaney’s calendar quickly became a who’s who black book of corporate and conservative interests — a selection includes casino magnate and friend of the president, Steve Wynn; representatives of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation; Wall Street and health CEOs; Koch Industries lobbyists; a Russian cryptocurrency evangelist; and a prominent member of the right wing Catholic organization Opus Dei.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of ProPublica, over 8,807 White House Complex meeting records are now available for public inspection. The searchable database of White House records is available via ProPublica’s website HERE.
Of their joint effort with ProPublica, Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro says, “The ProPublica reporting based on our documents unmistakably reveals that OMB maintains an open door policy for those representing many of the most conservative interests in the country. Imagine what we might learn if the White House stopped hiding and actually made its full logs available. The democratic process cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government. Trump’s secrecy surrounding White House visitor logs denies the public information it needs to hold this administration accountable.”
Property of the People Chair Sarahjane Blum adds, “obtaining these documents is an important step towards transparency, but the White House is still improperly withholding many names from these logs. Property of the People continues to vigorously seek release of these names through our ongoing FOIA litigation.”
Moving forward, new White House visitor logs and calendar entries will be added to the database as they are obtained by Property of the People via the organization’s continuing Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits.
Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy co-founded by Ryan Shapiro, Jeffrey Light, and Sarahjane Blum. The organization’s motto is, “The records of government are the property of the people. It’s time we reclaim them.” Property of the People is on twitter @propOTP
Ryan Shapiro is a PhD candidate at MIT and co-founder of Property of the People. Politico has called Shapiro “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro’s pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.
Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC-based FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light assisted by Property of the People legal strategist, Gunita Singh.
On April 6 and 7, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President Trump at the Mar-a-Lago Club. Accounts of the meeting were fairly positive, but there is likely much more brewing beneath the surface of these celebratory reports (and tweets).
On June 9, 2017, Property of the People requested documents from the Department of State pertaining to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Mar-a-Lago.
On November 6, 2017, we received responsive documents.
The documents show that Chinese officials requested the U.S. Department of State to employ specific security measures in preparation for the visit. The requested security precautions appear fairly straightforward, and include preventing suspected terrorists from approaching the visiting dignitaries, making security staff available for 24/7 protection of the dignitaries’ hotel rooms, and port courtesy for the dignitaries.
It is unclear whether these security measures were enacted.
Much of the documents were redacted under Freedom of Information Act exemption 7(e) (would disclose techniques for law enforcement) and 7(c) (could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy).
However, some new information was made available through the documents. Previously, it had not been reported in U.S. media who attended the meetings at Mar-a-Lago. Our responsive documents finally release this information.
In attendance, in addition to Xi Jinping, were Chinese State Councilor H.E. Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Vice Premier Wang Yang.
Among the responsive documents was an email from March 2017 discussing travel logistics. Apparently, Diplomatic Security personnel within the State Department became aware of the disparate seniorities of the visiting officials and, so as not to offend anyone, sought to be cognizant of everyone’s respective prestige while transporting them in a number of different Sprint vans.
The intricacies involved in deciding who will sit among whom in what Sprinter van are somewhat of a microcosm for the complexities of U.S. foreign policy. A bounty of concerns but always be weighed against one another. For example, just days after the Trump-Xi meeting, Trump asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to launch an investigation into whether foreign steel imports posed a threat to national security on the grounds that the American military relies on steel for airplanes, ships and other equipment. Likely to be a primary focus of this investigation is none other than China.
The investigation reflects the Trump administration's determination to use existing trade laws more aggressively to combat what it sees as unfair practices by U.S. trading partners. The rationale is that restricting steel imports may help restore U.S. manufacturing jobs.
China subsidizes its steel industry, allowing it to flood low-cost steel into the U.S. This phenomenon has lent itself to a steel overcapacity, making it more difficult for American manufacturers to compete. Thus, Trump’s potential steel restrictions are mostly aimed at persuading China, producer of more than half the world’s steel, to cut excess production capacity. Trade analysts presume that Trump may turn to steel import restrictions because he can invoke them without congressional approval. However, the implications are complex and layered. This likely China-centric investigation comes at a time when Trump is trying to persuade China to take a stronger role in reining in North Korea's nuclear programs.
Nonetheless, President Trump declared that “true progress” had been made at the meeting with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago. More recently, during Trump’s early November visit to China, Trump further praised the Chinese president and reported nothing but positive results and “good chemistry” – a sharp contrast from Trump’s controversial comments last year in which he deemed the Chinese to be currency manipulators who were “raping” the U.S.
The first year of the Trump administration has seen a number of these position vacillations. This is one reason it is critical access to the documents of government is maintained, and why Property of the People is so committed to the work of holding the Trump administration transparent and accountable.
Self-dealing and misleading donors violate federal tax laws intended to ensure the ethical functioning of charities. When New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decided to probe the Eric Trump Foundation regarding possible violations of tax laws against self dealing this past summer, Property of the People pursued the issue further by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The annual Eric Trump Foundation golf invitational, the stated purpose of which is to raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has in recent years engaged in self-dealing by funneling $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization. Additionally, the Trump Organization, of which Eric Trump is executive vice president, received compensation for making available its Trump National Golf Club in New York for events to raise money for St. Jude — a violation of Eric Trump’s proclamation that he could use the family golf course for free.
On June 19, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) delivered responsive documents to Property of the People regarding our request for documents about the Eric Trump Foundation.
Among the responsive documents is Eric Trump’s IRS 1023 Form — his application for tax exempt status. Oddly completed with a felt-tip marker, already raising eyebrows at the legitimacy of the enterprise, the form’s answers contain all the basics — names, addresses, and intent to undertake fundraising. Contained in the attachments to the document, however, are some particularly noteworthy statements:
In answering Part II, Question 5 about whether the Foundation has bylaws, Trump states that the “Eric Trump Foundation has not adopted any bylaws.” Not only does the absence of bylaws run counter to standard convention for the establishment of nonprofits, but the Foundation’s answer states that the “integrity, persistence, and selflessness” of the chosen officers and directors of the Foundation will essentially serve as an inherent safeguard against the problems that bylaws are designed to prevent and mitigate.
Eventually, however, the Eric Trump Foundation created bylaws. Perhaps the moral fiber of the officers proved insufficient.
Section 3(c)(i) of the by-laws states that upon the death of Eric Trump and without the requirement of action by the board of directors, the child of Eric Trump who has attained age 30 will automatically become director. This inclination toward dynasticism isn’t the only incongruous aspect of the Foundation, though.
Trump states in his answer to Part IV of the Forms that “[t]he Foundation is fortunate in that [the] chairman’s family owns three golf courses in New York and New Jersey that we can utilize.” Trump subsequently elaborated that he would be able to utilize such assets for free.
This is simply false.
The Trump Organization, owned by President Donald Trump, received payments for use of the golf complex. In fact, such payments constitute more than $1.2 million that have no documented recipients after the Trump Organization. Katrina Kaupp, who served on the board of directors at the Eric Trump Foundation in 2010 and 2011, stated that it was the President of the United States, himself, who ordered the Trump Organization to start billing the Eric Trump Foundation for use of the course.
Prior to granting them tax-exempt status, the IRS specifically asked the Foundation for information on their conflict of interest policy and whether there were any relationships between the Foundation and for-profit entities that would create conflicts of interest. The Foundation hired a law firm to correspond with the IRS on the matter.
The law firm Schwartz and Fang, P.C. directly told the IRS that there were “no relationships where the Eric Trump Foundation and its board members are involved with for-profit entities or limited liability companies which may present a conflict of interest with the applicant organization.”
The investigation continues to this day.
As reported in the Washington Post, new FOIA-obtained documents show the White House National Security Council (NSC) paid over $1,000 for an unidentified guest to stay two nights at Donald Trump’s luxury resort Mar-a-Lago. This payment, made with a U.S. government charge card, constitutes the first documented violation by President Trump of the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause. President Trump owns 99.99% of Mar-a-Lago, LLC directly, and the company’s profits are held in a revocable trust from which Trump may withdraw funds without restriction.
Washington, DC — Today, as a result of ongoing FOIA litigation, Operation 45 obtained, among other documents, a November 1, 2016 letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Benjamin Cardin wherein the Senators call on then President Barack Obama to take immediate action against Russia for intrusions into the 2016 election, which was at the moment of their letter just over a week away.
Also included in the released documents are responses from Julia Frifield, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs at the State Department stating that they, "will not tolerate attempts to interfere with the U.S. Democratic process, and we will take action to protect our interests, including in cyberspace, and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing."
These documents were produced in response to a lawsuit we filed with investigative journalist Jason Leopold on December 26, 2016. Leopold's article about the Feinstein/Cardin letter can be found here.
Today, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking the release of Donald J. Trump’s FBI file. The records requested, which cover a period from June 14, 1946 through June 15, 2015, will shed new light on already known investigations linking Trump to organized crime and will provide new information about Trump’s engagements with the bureau.
The effort is part of Property of the People’s Operation 45, a project dedicated to seeking transparency and accountability from the Trump administration. Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate, and investigative reporter Jason Leopold, are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
It has been nearly three months since Property of the People first filed a request to the FBI seeking, among other things, as the request states: “[a]ny and all records mentioning or referring to the living person Donald John Trump.”
Though the FBI has previously released multiple documents with Trump’s name on them from the period stated to Shapiro and Leopold, they have improperly withheld records from this most recent request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would infringe on Trump’s privacy. However, the enormous public interest in obtaining this information clearly outweighs any embarrassment Trump might suffer. Additionally Trump’s own tweets acknowledging the FBI’s investigation of him negate any arguments that such records may not exist.
Moreover, the FBI has improperly withheld records from this request on the grounds that confirming the existence or non-existence of such records would “risk circumvention of Federal law enforcement efforts.” As stated in the complaint:
“Confirming that the FBI maintains files numbered 137-NY-19967 and 137-22152 would not disclose techniques, procedures, or guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. Additionally, documents referencing file numbers 137-22152 and 137-NY-19967 in connection with the FBI’s contact with Mr. Trump are already available to the public. The disclosure of the mere existence or nonexistence of responsive records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. The FBI has not only unreasonably withheld the responsive records, but has unreasonably refused to even confirm the existence of responsive records.”
Plaintiff Shapiro asserts: “Given the profound gravity of the FBI’s past and ongoing investigations involving Donald J. Trump, the public interest in the release of the requested documents is immense. The American public absolutely deserves to know the full truth about the FBI’s historical and current operations involving the President.”
Property of the People vs. Department of Justice, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint can be read in it’s entirety HERE.
On May 11th, the saga of the FBI's investigation of Trump's call for Russian hacking in the US election was the top story in The Guardian. As analyzed by Operation 45 founder Ryan Shapiro: "In light of Trump's sudden termination of Director Comey, this fact should significantly reinforce the widespread perception that the president of the United States is unabashedly seeking to cover up his and his associates' crimes."
Newly released documents unearthed by the work of Operation 45 reveal that the FBI investigated an extortion threat related to a menacing phone call made to bankruptcy attorney Kristopher Hansen on February 18, 2009, wherein a Trump associate using the name “Carmine” threatened Hansen’s wife and children. Redactions within FBI documents initially indicated that the bureau’s extortion investigation was ongoing as of March 9, 2017. However, in an unusual step the FBI backtracked and claimed that the redaction marking was inadvertent.
The first set of FBI documents (1 & 2) were produced in March as a result of a FOIA lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News Senior Investigative journalist Jason Leopold, and Operation 45 founder, Ryan Shapiro.