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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.

Narco-a-Lago: Donald Trump Made Millions from Panama Development Used to Launder Drug Money

Narco-a-Lago: Donald Trump Made Millions from Panama Development Used to Launder Drug Money

President Donald Trump has made millions from selling his name to a Panama development used to launder money from Latin American drug cartels, a Global Witness investigation reveals today.

After licensing his name to the Trump Ocean Club in 2006, Trump appears to have turned a blind eye to the source of the buyers’ funds and the background of some of the individual brokers (1). The investigation, Narco-a-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club, Panama provides powerful evidence that profits from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking were laundered through the Trump Ocean Club. Trump was one of the beneficiaries, since he received a cut of all sales. Trump’s Presidential disclosures show he was still making money from a management contract for the Trump Ocean Club when he took office in 2017.

“This must be investigated. Donald Trump has made millions from a project used by Latin American drug cartels to launder money. The warning signs were there for a responsible businessperson, but it seems Trump didn’t want to know,” said Eryn Schornick, Senior Policy Advisor at Global Witness.

The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals: initial projections indicate that he was set to make $75.4 million by 2010. Sources close to the development described it as “Ivanka’s baby”, and confirmed that Trump’s daughter was in overall charge of the licensing venture for the Trump Organization.

The Trump Ocean Club, Panama

The report highlights several warning signs for money laundering in the project, which should have raised the alarm for a responsible businessperson looking to avoid being associated with dirty money. Panama was a major hub for money laundering when Trump signed the licensing and management deal with the Trump Ocean Club in 2006. Global Witness’ sources indicate that many units were bought in bulk, some sales were made with bearer shares, and secretly owned companies were often used, hiding the identities of the buyers.

The investigation also shines a light on several dubious characters that bought units or brokered transactions at the Trump Ocean Club. Those involved include:

  1. David Murcia Guzmán, released from U.S. federal prison after serving a sentence of nine years for laundering millions of dollars’ worth of illicit funds, including narcotics proceeds, through secret companies and real estate.

  2. Murcia Guzmán’s business associate Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who claims to have brokered nearly a third of all 666 pre-construction unit sales at the Trump Ocean Club. Ventura Nogueira, who has faced accusations of criminal activity including fraud, was critical to ensuring the project’s lift-off and hence Trump’s ability to earn tens of millions of dollars.
  3. Ventura Nogueira assembled a team of agents and brokers to market Trump Ocean Club units, often targeting buyers of Russian and Eastern European origin. Some of these agents have faced serious accusations of criminal activity. 

Although the extent of Trump’s knowledge of these brokers and buyers is unknown, it is highly likely that the Trump Organization had the right to receive sales reports and demand information on the buyers. Buying high-end real estate through secretly-owned companies is a well-known way for criminals to stash the cash they make through crime and launder it to spend without scrutiny. It’s a tried and trusted method used by organized crime, drug cartels and human traffickers.

 

“Now that Donald Trump is president, his business is the nation’s business. He claims to be tough on crime and drugs, yet he’s earned millions from selling his name to a Panama development used to launder drug money,” said Schornick. “These fresh revelations of unscrupulous business dealings show his public rhetoric is both misleading and hypocritical.”

Global Witness calls upon appropriate law enforcement authorities, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller (see here), and congressional committees (see here andhere) to investigate the allegations raised in this report and, if appropriate, hold President Trump accountable for his actions.

Global Witness’ other recommendations are:

  1. Every country should require all companies and trusts to disclose who ultimately owns and controls them and make this information public.
  2. Every country should require the real estate sector to know who their clients are and the source of their funds to ensure that dirty money is not being laundered into the property market.
  3. Every country should require lawyers who carry out transactions for their clients, including the buying and selling of real estate and the creation of companies, to know who their clients are and the source of their funds.

Global Witness has repeatedly shown how secret companies have been used as vehicles to cover up illicit activities such as corruption, terrorism and money laundering. For more, see here. For the full facts and relevant responses from our investigation, read or download the entire report via Global Witness’ website here.

Paradise Papers: Global Witness Statement on Wilbur Ross’ Offshore Secrecy

Paradise Papers: Global Witness Statement on Wilbur Ross’ Offshore Secrecy

Washington, DC — Leaked documents published today by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists expose how offshore tax havens, white-collar professionals, and anonymous company owners hide their finances behind a veil of secrecy.  The documents from Bermuda-based law firm Appleby include evidence of dubious deals and holdings involving the Queen of England, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser, and Trump appointed U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

According to the documents, Wilbur Ross used a constellation of companies, some with their ownership undisclosed. The companies were set up by Appleby to retain shares in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm with business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions.

Ross’ stake has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from Sibur, a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The documents also report that Appleby has administered some 50 companies and partnerships set up in the Caymans and other tax havens that are connected to Ross, whose net worth is estimated to be more than $2 billion dollars.

“This is yet another instance of conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. Wilbur Ross influences US trade and sanctions, yet he is still making millions from a Russian company that could be targeted by these decisions. This is highly problematic for an administration at the center of investigations into collusion with the Russian state,” said Mark Hays, Anti Money Laundering Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

The deals outlined in the Paradise Papers underscore the importance of transparency measures, such as Beneficial Ownership Transparency legislation [S. 1454, S. 1717, and H.R. 3089] , which would help prevent public officials and companies involved in potentially criminal or corrupt activities from using the offshore system to hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.

“This new leak demonstrates once again how it’s all too easy to use anonymous companies to game the system,” said Hays.



Note to Editors

Experts from Global Witness, an internationally recognized organization for bold, tenacious campaigns to expose and break links between natural resources, conflict and corruption, are available for comment or interview by emailing Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net and can provide insight in the following areas:

Offshore Corruption
Anonymous Corporate Vehicles
Beneficial Ownership Transparency Legislation
Corruption Involving Property & Real Estate
Corruption in Extractive Industries
Money Laundering
Conflict Resources

Documents Revealing Agency Payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels Provide Strong New Evidence for Impeachment

Documents Revealing Agency Payments to Mar-A-Lago and Trump Hotels Provide Strong New Evidence for Impeachment

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, according to an invoice obtained by transparency group Property of the People via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. 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.

This and related documents were recently obtained via a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People as part of the organization’s Trump administration-specific transparency project, Operation 45.

The NSC invoice is the strongest evidence uncovered to date that Trump’s refusal to divest from his business empire has resulted in Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s anti-corruption Domestic Emoluments Clause. This provision prohibits the President from receiving emoluments (profitable payments, benefits, or advantages) paid by federal or state governments, beyond the salary approved by Congress.

A receipt from Donald Trump’s luxury Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago showing that the White House National Security Council was charged $1,092.00 for a guest to stay at the resort on March 3, and 4 of 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.

In the past, presidents possessing significant business holdings have divested themselves of their holdings or placed them into a blind trust prior to assuming office. President Trump, however, has adamantly refused to do either. Instead, Trump has placed his business empire into a revocable trust administered by his sons, a move that has been widely viewed by experts as insufficient. This trust is set up to allow Trump to withdraw any amount of money at any time for any reason “at his request.”

 

The released documents show that Mar-A-Lago charged the NSC full price for the rented room instead of offering the NSC a discounted rate covering only the resort’s costs. The NSC receipt lists the rate paid by the National Security Council as the “rack rate,” meaning the standard, non-discounted rate for the room. As such, the NSC’s payment to Mar-A-Lago constitutes a direct, profitable payment from a U.S. government agency to a business personally owned by Donald Trump. This is strong evidence of a violation by President Trump of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

A receipt from Donald Trump’s exclusive Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama showing that the US Embassy was charged $632.00 for a 4 night rental at the tower in June, 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.

Property of the People also obtained invoices showing payments by the United States Embassy to Trump’s hotel in Panama, and documentation of payments by unidentified federal employees to Trump’s Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas hotels. These payments were all made on official U.S. government charge cards. They were obtained through Property of the People’s FOIA request to the United States Coast Guard, which administers the charge card program for the Department of Homeland Security.

To date, discussion of the potential constitutional implications arising from Trump’s business holdings has focused primarily on the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Three lawsuits have now been filed against President Trump alleging violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and legal scholars and cities across the country are already calling for Trump’s impeachment on grounds including Foreign Emoluments violations. Far less attention has paid to the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The documents just obtained by Property of the People are the first solid evidence uncovered of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.

According to Property of the People Director Ryan Shapiro:

“These documents represent perhaps the clearest evidence yet that President Trump has violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The likely constitutional violation here belongs in any forthcoming articles of impeachment. Due to his glaring refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, the President has no one to blame but himself.”

Shapiro and Property of the People are also calling on the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over potential violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause, to investigate. Says Shapiro:

“These invoices are strong evidence of a constitutional violation and they warrant a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice.”

The complete set of documents obtained by Property of the People show that:

  1. The National Security Council paid $1,092 for a March 3-4, 2017 stay at President Trump’s luxury Palm Beach, FL golf resort, Mar-a-Lago.
  2. The U.S. Embassy in Panama paid $632 for a March 23, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Panama City.
  3. The Coast Guard paid $186.17 for a June 11-14, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas.
  4. The documents obtained by Property of the People also reveal the Coast Guard paid $62.40 for food or drink at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on June 2, 2017.

The documents were obtained in response to a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People to the United States Coast Guard. Property of the People is also pursuing the release of charge card records from other federal agencies to which the organization has submitted similar requests. These agencies include the United States Secret Service, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Defense.

Related Documents

  1. DHS / Coast Guard Trump Properties Response, HERE
  2. Letter from Property of the People Calling on Attorney General Sessions and DOJ to Investigate Violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, HERE
  3. DHS Charge Card Expenses (March 3-5), HERE
  4. DHS Cover Letter, HERE

About Property of the People’s Operation 45

Property of the People is non-profit transparency organization co-founded in November 2016 by Ryan Shapiro and Jeffrey Light. Property of the People’s project Operation 45 seeks transparency and accountability from the Trump Administration. The Nation calls Operation 45 a ray of hope in these dark political times.”  Operation 45 is on twitter @opfortyfive

Ryan Shapiro is the co-founder and Director of Property of the People and a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a former Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro is widely known as a leading expert on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Politico describes Shapiro as “a FOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro’s path-breaking FOIA work has led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research methodologies a threat to national security. In November 2016, Shapiro co-founded the non-profit transparency organization Property of the People, whose project Operation 45 seeks transparency and accountability from the Trump Administration.  Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.

Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light. Light is on Twitter at @_lightlaw.

You can support Property of the People by donating HERE