All posts by Sparrow

Litigation Reveals GSA Expenditures at Trump International Hotel in DC

Litigation Reveals GSA Expenditures at Trump International Hotel in DC

Washington, DC — As court arguments in the District of Columbia and Maryland litigate whether patronage by state governments and foreign countries at The Trump International Hotel in DC violates the US Constitution, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the transparency organization Property of The People has now produced receipts revealing expenditures at the Trump International Hotel by The US General Services Administration (GSA), the agency responsible for administering the travel charge card program for all federal agencies.

The FOIA lawsuit that obtained the receipts was brought by Property of the People and MIT FOIA researcher Ryan Shapiro.  The group and Shapiro filed similar FOIA requests with The Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, State Department, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and US Customs and Border Protection.

In September 2017, documents obtained by Property of the People from the Coast Guard and DHS revealed National Security Council and other agency  payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels. These documents provided the first strong evidence of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.  These revelations informed Senators Gary Peters, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Udall’s decision to introduce the HOTEL Act — Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating and Lodging — banning executive officials from staying at any property owned by the president, vice president, Cabinet secretaries or their families members.

The document just released by GSA to Property of the People, a microsoft .xls file, highlights $1760.46 in charges made by the GSA across three days in 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in DC and the BLT Prime Restaurant within the DC Trump Hotel.

“Regardless of how much he makes on any individual transaction, the President is sending a signal that the White House is open for business,” said Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro.Due to his refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, Donald Trump has turned the American Presidency into a racket.”

As part of the the organization’s efforts to seek transparency and accountability from the Trump administration, Property of the People has hundreds of FOIA requests in motion with numerous federal agencies, as well as numerous active federal FOIA lawsuits to compel agency compliance with the organization’s requests.

Related Documents

  1. View the list of GSA charge card expenses HERE
  2. Read the GSA’s response to Property of the People’s suit HERE
  3. Read Property of the People’s initial complaint HERE

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was 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, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, 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 counsel, Gunita Singh.

You can support their work at operationfortyfive.org/donations

Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Group Sues FBI for Documents on Previously Unknown Cyber-Enabled Surveillance Platform Named ‘Gravestone’

Washington, DC — On Thursday, December 21, 2017, Property of the People 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”.

Very little is publicly known about Gravestone. In late 2016, Property of the People located information online identified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as “metadata” about a previously unknown FBI surveillance platform named Gravestone. The metadata was posted on the DOJ’s website data.gov [screencaptures 1, 2].

The metadata and associated information on the DOJ site revealed, “Gravestone is a system consisting of an IP based camera, routers, firewalls, and a workstation to review surveillance video. The system provides Video Surveillance data to FBI field offices and is used by case agents.”

The DOJ shortly thereafter deleted the Gravestone entry from data.gov. This deletion appears to have part of a broader DOJ data.gov purge of publicly available information about FBI systems. While it is unclear precisely when the DOJ deleted the Gravestone information, the deletion appears to have occurred sometime between December 9, 2016 and January 24, 2017.

In March 2017, Property of the People submitted five Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI for records on Gravestone. The FBI failed to comply with the organization’s requests within the statutorily-permitted 20-working day deadline, and therefore the FBI is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Consequently, earlier today, the group filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI to compel compliance with its FOIA requests.

Among other things, the transparency organization’s five FOIA requests seek FBI documents on Gravestone-related Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA), instructional and training materials, acquisition and maintenance records, and security incidents and misuse.

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, federal agencies are generally required to conduct Privacy Impact Assessments for all systems that collect personally identifiable information, and make these publicly available online. While it is unknown whether the DOJ and FBI consider Gravestone to be a National Security System, the DOJ’s own guidelines mandate that Privacy Impact Assessments be completed for all systems, including National Security Systems. Not only has the DOJ now purged all information about Gravestone from its website, but the FBI and DOJ have failed to make public any Privacy Impact Assessment for the FBI’s Gravestone system.

According to Property of the People Co-Founder, Ryan Shapiro:

“The FBI has a long, dark history of utilizing new surveillance technologies to facilitate violations of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the public requires access to documents about this cyber-enabled FBI surveillance platform.”

Shapiro continues:

“The FBI has failed to make public, and possibly even to conduct, the legally mandated Privacy Impact Assessment for its Gravestone surveillance system, and also failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about Gravestone. True to form, the FBI appears intent on conducting surveillance with abandon on Americans while simultaneously refusing to comply with even the most basic requirements of transparency about this surveillance.”

About Property of the People

Property of the People is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transparency organization dedicated to governmental transparency in the service of democracy. The organization was 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, a former research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, 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.

Property of the People Demands Termination of Christy McCormick from Trump’s Election Integrity Committee

Property of the People Demands Termination of Christy McCormick from Trump’s Election Integrity Committee


Letter from Transparency Watchdog to Secretariat Reveals McCormick’s Dual Positions in Trump Admin Violates Federal Law


Read the letter to Secretariat HERE

Washington, DC 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.

Sarahjane Blum, Property of the People Chair states: “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.”

Property of the People is motivated by the twin aims of transparency and accountability. In an effort to hold the government accountable on this important matter, we intend to ensure that this violation of the law is no longer ignored.

About Property of the People

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

A Personal Appeal from The Sparrow Project

A Personal Appeal from The Sparrow Project


Dear Friend,

By now you’ve probably received a dozen or more emails about #GivingTuesday.  I would be remiss to say that this note is something uniquely different, but I’d like to take a second to describe how the scope of work being serviced through The Sparrow Project has changed and can benefit from sustaining donations from people like you.

In 2016 The Sparrow Project stopped accepting paying clients and started routing requests for paid work through our friends at Balestra Media.  We began emphasizing quality over frequency and this calculous provided a handful of amazing activists working on shoestring budgets (or no budgets at all) with access to top-tier media coverage, digital audience building, and blooming political clout.

This past year The Sparrow Project; partnered with The Washington Post to break Property of the People’s FOIA scoop outlining the Trump administration’s possible violations of the domestic emoluments clause; produced video content and serviced media advisories for a Long Island activist challenging congressman Peter King; and developed a media partnership between Property of the People and ProPublica to publish a searchable online database of White House visitor records previously withheld by president Trump.

Since 2016, The Sparrow Project has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in services to grassroots activists for free.  I want to see this work continue.  Please consider becoming a patron of The Sparrow Project and help us expand our scope even further.

All the best,
Andy Stepanian

Property of the People Forensically Reconstructs Trump’s Undisclosed White House Visitor Logs

Property of the People Forensically Reconstructs Trump’s Undisclosed White House Visitor Logs


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.