Tag Archives: FOIA

FOIA Litigation Reveals $344,008.28 in Taxpayer Money Spent at Trump Properties

FOIA Litigation Reveals $344,008.28 in Taxpayer Money Spent at Trump Properties

Washington, DC  Over the past year, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation filed by the transparency organization Property of The People (PoTP) has produced receipts and other documents revealing an excess of $344,008.28 in emoluments from US government agencies at Trump properties.  Property of the People is publishing these documents in their entirety today in their new searchable archive.  A full list of document urls is attached below in our note to editors.

Via a partnership with our colleagues at ProPublica, these documents, in addition to others, have been integrated into an evergreen interactive news application for journalists, activists, and researchers to track how Donald Trump and his family trust are profiting off the US Presidency.  Titled “Paying the President” this news app highlights $16.1 million in campaign and agency payments made to Trump properties since the 2015 announcement Trump’s campaign, including $386,474.66 of taxpayer money.  Federal taxpayer data will be regularly updated and remains incomplete because agencies are fighting disclosure.

PoTP’s newest documents show expenses of $79,618.25 spent at Trump properties by the State Department, and $3,768.94 spent at Trump properties by the Department of Commerce since President Trump took office.

To date FOIA litigation from PoTP has uncovered the following agency payments at Trump properties:

  1. $147, 379.50 in Department of Defense expenditures at Trump Properties from January to June, 2017;
  2. $108,876.55 in Department of Homeland Security expenditures at Trump Properties across three events in January 2017, May 2017, and February 2018;
  3. $79,618.25 in Department of State expenditures at Trump Properties since February 2017;
  4. $3,768.94 in Department of Commerce expenditures at Trump Properties since January 2017;
  5. $2,604.57 in Coast Guard expenditures at Trump Properties from February to June 2017;
  6. and $1,760.46 in General Services Administration expenditures at Trump Properties from February to June 2017.

The State Department and Department of Commerce documents uncovered build upon earlier discoveries by PoTP, and show that it is both standard practice for Donald Trump to charge government employees the maximum posted rate (also known as the “rack rate”) for stays at Mar-A-Lago. Property of the People co-founder Sarahjane Blum explains, “setting up a situation where the American public is forced to pay the exorbitantly high rack to get the work of governing done is one of the many ways the Trump presidency is setting up and normalizing kleptocracy.”

Sarahjane Blum explains these emoluments on WNYC’s Trump Inc,

“Donald Trump views the American public as a bunch of marks waiting to be fleeced,” 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.”

Added Property of the People staff attorney, Gunita Singh, “Repeatedly, our FOIA litigation has revealed blatant financial conflicts of interest resulting in the transfer of taxpayer dollars to Trump properties and likely constitutional violations. We expect this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we fully intend to aggressively continue our FOIA work exposing kleptocracy at the highest reaches of government.”

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 also 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.  A house version of the bill (H.R. 5304) has also been introduced by congressman Jamie Raskin.

 


A Note to Editors

Property of the People has organized these government charge card documents and others together as part of their Operation 45 project.  The projects full archive can be browsed online HERE.  For journalists and editors who would like URLs for individual documents we have organized them by agency below.

  1. State Department Charge Card Expenses: Production I, Production II
  2. Department of Commerce Charge Card Expenses: IOS Release I, IOS Release II, IOS Release III, IOS Release IV, IOS Release V
  3. Department of Defense Charge Card Expenses: March 2018 receipt Production, Summary Chart
  4. Department of Homeland Security & Coast Guard Charge Card Expenses: DHS Production I, Coast Guard Billing Statements, Coast Guard, NSC and Embassy Expenditures, FY16 + FY17 bundle
  5. General Services Administration Charge Card Expenses: GSA Production


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 staff attorney, Gunita Singh.

You can support their work at propertyofthepeople.org/donate

FOIA Litigation Reveals Department of Defense Spent $138,093 at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Businesses

FOIA Litigation Reveals Department of Defense Spent $138,093 at Mar-a-Lago and Trump Businesses

Washington, DC A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the transparency organization Property of The People has produced receipts and other documents revealing Department of Defense (DoD) expenditures at Mar-a-Lago and twelve Trump properties during the President’s first six months in office.  The expenses, each made with DoD charge cards, raise serious questions as to whether Donald Trump is violating the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution.

Among the documents released today is an 8-page summary chart provided by the Department of Defense outlining the majority of $138,093.23 in DoD charges at Trump properties beginning on the first day of the administration, January 20, 2017, through June 14, 2017. The release also includes a 369-page document with receipts corresponding to a selection of the charges outlined in the summary chart.  Among the charges were $58,875.69 in charges incurred specifically at Mar-a-Lago; $9,618.78 at Trump’s Bedminster, NJ Golf Club during an extended weekend stay in May, 2017;  $35,652.44 spent at Trump’s Las Vegas Hotel; and $17,102.55 in DoD expenditures at Donald Trump’s beleaguered Trump Ocean Club in Panama.

A summary chart provided by the Department of Defense outlining the majority of $138,093.23 in DoD charges at Trump properties beginning on the first day of the administration, January 20, 2017, through June 14, 2017. You can read the full chart HERE.

The FOIA lawsuit that obtained the receipts was brought by Property of the People and the organization’s co-founder, MIT FOIA researcher Ryan Shapiro.  The group and Shapiro have filed similar FOIA requests with The US State Department, Department of Commerce, General Services Administration, US 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 also 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.

And last month, documents released by the General Services Administration (GSA) to Property of the People highlighted $1,760.46 in charges made by the GSA across three days in 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in DC and the BLT Prime Restaurant located within the DC Trump Hotel.

“Donald Trump views the American public as a bunch of marks waiting to be fleeced,” said Property of the People co-founder, Ryan Shapiro. “With the DoD’s spending at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, and Trump’s refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, once again we find the President’s hand deep in the taxpayer’s pocket.”

Continued Shapiro, “Trump’s venality and his administration’s open contempt for transparency creates a functionally unprecedented potential for conflicts of interest and corruption.”

Added Property of the People staff attorney, Gunita Singh, “Repeatedly, our FOIA litigation has revealed blatant financial conflicts of interest resulting in the transfer of taxpayer dollars to Trump properties and likely constitutional violations. We expect this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we fully intend to aggressively continue our FOIA work exposing kleptocracy at the highest reaches of government.”

As part of the the organization’s efforts to seek transparency and accountability from the Trump administration, Property of the People has thousands 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 summary chart of DoD’s charge card expenses HERE
  2. Read a 369 page selection of DoD receipts HERE
  3. Read the DoD’s accompanying cover letter HERE
  4. 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 staff attorney, Gunita Singh.

You can support their work at https://operationfortyfive.org/donations

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 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.