Archives for October 2016

October Newsletter

Cause of Action Institute published its October newsletter today. You can read the newsletter here and subscribe to the newsletter here.  The October newsletter highlights:

  • our investigative report, Presidential Access to Taxpayer Information, describing recent IRS misuse and unauthorized release of confidential taxpayer information and the role of a detailee program in the Office of the White House Counsel that could be used to provide access to the protected information;
  • a request for investigation we made to the Department of Justice Inspector General after one of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, made a substantial political donation to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; and
  • links to a recent op-ed about how EPA regulations affect the employment of millions of Americans, as well as several news articles covering recent CoA Institute actions.

CoA Institute Calls on FBI Official to Recuse Himself from Clinton Email Investigation

Washington D.C. – In light of potential conflicts of interest, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today called on FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to recuse himself from any further involvement in the renewed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

CoA Institute last week sent a request for investigation to the Department of Justice Inspector General, as well as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI, after media reports revealed that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a key supporter of Hillary Clinton, made substantial political donations to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of FBI Deputy Director McCabe. On top of this potential conflict of interest, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that FBI agents who were interested in aggressively pursuing an investigation into the Clinton Foundation were instructed by Mr. McCabe to “stand down.”

CoA Institute Vice President John J. Vecchione: “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should recuse himself from further involvement in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Regardless of whether any illegal or unethical conduct occurred, these campaign contributions present a serious potential conflict of interest. Recent complaints within the FBI that Mr. McCabe instructed some agents to ‘stand down’ on further investigations raise additional concerns. Mr. McCabe should recuse himself in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”


CoA Institute Requests White House Communications with John Podesta, Interest Groups on Controversial National Monument Designations

Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records of correspondence among the White House, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and outside interest groups discussing current and proposed national monument designations.

Unconfirmed emails obtained by CoA Institute appear to show John Podesta and White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Managing Director Christy Goldfuss discussing controversial designations of new national monuments and expansion of existing monuments under the Antiquities Act.

The broad use of the Antiquities Act under the Obama administration has raised concerns about the opaque process and lack of consultation with local stakeholders leading up to the president’s designation of new national monuments. If verified, these emails raise additional transparency concerns and the specter of collusion.

Ms. Goldfuss, a White House political appointee, appears to have used her private email account to coordinate with outside interest groups and individuals, including John Podesta, regarding the selection or designation of national monuments. For instance, in one unconfirmed email exchange, Ms. Goldfuss sent a work-related email to Mr. Podesta using her Gmail account in which she stated:

Hi John, . . . It’s all coming together.  I may have an oceans monument question for you soon.  We’re looking at the NE, and it’s messy.  Hope all is well!  We sure do feel your absence now that Kristina is gone.  I always felt like she channeled you so well. Talk soon, Christy.

By using her personal email account to conduct government business, Goldfuss may have violated the Federal Records Act, if she failed to forward those emails to her official government email account so that they can be appropriately archived and searched.

In another unconfirmed email exchange, Mr. Michael Conathan, the Director of Ocean Policy at Center for American Progress, emailed John Podesta with the Subject: “Re: A couple of quick ocean things”:

Hey John, Welcome back to the world outside the White House gates… Jane and I had a good meeting with Christy and the CEQ team, and got over to meet Brian earlier this week, so we’re full steam ahead with the monuments process. Thanks for all your help on that front. …

While the veracity of this email cannot be independently verified, White House visitor logs indicate that Mr. Conathan was at the White House on Feb. 23, 2015 to meet with Hilary Atkin, who, per publically available information, worked for CEQ at the time of the meeting.

To ensure compliance with the law, CoA Institute today requested all communications, including personal emails, relating to the Obama administration’s use of the Antiquities Act to unilaterally proclaim new national monuments.

CoA Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner: “Designating a new area as a national monument should be an open process where the public and local stakeholders have an opportunity to be heard. The public also has a right to know whether decisions to limit public use of federal lands are properly made.  If verified, these personal emails show possible collusion among the Hillary Clinton campaign, the White House, and activist organizations to further the goals of interest groups at the expense of the American people.”

The FOIA is available HERE

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CoA Institute Sues Sec Kerry for Colin Powell Emails

Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Archivist David Ferriero to fulfill their statutory obligations to recover all of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s work-related email records from a personal email service provider. The lawsuit was filed after Secretary Kerry and Archivist Ferriero failed to act on a Federal Records Act notice and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent earlier this month.

In September, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee held a hearing at which Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy testified that his agency had undertaken only minimal efforts to retrieve former Secretary Powell’s work-related emails from his private email account. Upon learning that Secretary Powell no longer had access to this account, the State Department merely requested that he contact his email provider to see if any records were still recoverable.  Secretary Powell never responded to that request, and the State Department took no further action, despite a request from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to contact Secretary Powell’s internet service or email provider directly.

Cause of Action Institute Vice President John Vecchione: “The law requires that all work-related emails sent or received using former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s personal email account be properly archived and available to the public through FOIA. The State Department has failed to take appropriate actions to secure those federal records. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Archivist are legally obligated to secure the records so that future generations can understand how important decisions were made during politically contentious years.”

The email records in question are not the personal property of former Secretary Powell but are federal records belonging to the State Department.  The Federal Records Act gives the Secretary of State (as well as the Archivist of the United States) the authority, acting through the U.S. Attorney General, to take necessary legal action to recover alienated records.  The right to initiate action through the Attorney General is a mandatory obligation—in other words, the Secretary and the Archivist are required to initiate action through the Attorney General to recover Secretary Powell’s work-related email.

CoA Institute’s lawsuit seeks to compel Secretary Kerry and Archivist Ferriero to fulfill their statutory obligations so that all of Secretary Powell’s work-related emails will be recovered.

Cause of Action Institute’s complaint can be accessed HERE

All complaint exhibits can be accessed HERE

Cause of Action Institute’s Federal Records Act notices can be accessed HERE and HERE


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CoA Institute Probes Gov. McAuliffe Campaign Contributions to Wife of FBI Official During Clinton Email Investigation

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today sent a request for investigation to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG), as well as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI, seeking an investigation of and records relating to substantial political donations to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. The campaign contributions came from the political action committee of one of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

CoA Institute Vice President John J. Vecchione: “Governor McAuliffe directed significant campaign contributions to an FBI official’s wife during active FBI investigations into both Governor McAuliffe and former Secretary of State Clinton.  Just a few months after those contributions were made, the FBI official apparently played a role in the decision not to recommend prosecution of Secretary Clinton, and he may be in a similar influential position with respect to the ongoing McAuliffe investigation. Regardless of whether any illegal or unethical conduct occurred, the campaign contributions at the very least raise serious questions about conflicts of interest and the propriety of Deputy Director McCabe’s involvement in and influence on those investigations.”

As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, Governor McAuliffe’s political action committee and the Virginia Democratic Party donated more than $675,000 in money and in-kind contributions to the state senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, a figure that represents “more than a third of all the campaign funds Dr. McCabe raised in the effort.”  Governor McAuliffe also met with Dr. McCabe to urge her to run for office as a Democrat on March 7, 2015, just five days after The New York Times broke the story on former Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email system.

The investigation into former Secretary Clinton’s private email system began in July 2015.  At that time, Deputy Director McCabe ran the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office, which provided personnel and resources to the Clinton email investigation.   Deputy Director McCabe assumed his current position in February 2016 and became part of the executive leadership team that oversaw the Clinton email investigation.

CoA Institute today requested an immediate investigation from the DOJ IG into the influence that these campaign contributions may have had on Deputy Director McCabe’s oversight of the Secretary Clinton email investigation and on the ongoing investigation of Governor McAuliffe. In its FOIA request to the FBI, CoA Institute seeks all communications surrounding Deputy Director McCabe’s role in the Clinton and McAuliffe investigations, as well the role Governor McAuliffe’s campaign contributions to Deputy Director McCabe’s wife may have played in those investigations.

The request for investigation to the DOJ IG is available HERE
The FOIA to FBI is available HERE

DOJ Watchdog Confirms Massive IRS Taxpayer Data Breach, Dismisses Request for Investigation

Washington D.C. – The Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) has confirmed unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information by the IRS, while at the same time dismissing a request by Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) to investigate wrongdoing. The response from the IG concluded that CoA Institute was correct in its allegations that “protected taxpayer information was included” on CDs provided by the IRS, but also determined that the matter “does not warrant further investigation[.]”

Last June, CoA Institute called on the DOJ IG and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to examine potential legal violations arising from the October 2010 disclosure of more than one million pages of tax returns and return information to the FBI and DOJ Public Integrity Section by Lois Lerner and the IRS.  [For more information, see pages 11-15 of CoA Institute’s recent investigative report]

TIGTA has not yet provided its response to the request.  CoA Institute also requested that the DOJ IG examine whether FBI and DOJ employees violated taxpayer confidentiality laws by inspecting that data.

While the IG admitted that “protected taxpayer information was included” on the IRS CDs, it stated that as soon as DOJ “learned of this, it returned the CDs to the IRS and informed Congress[.]”  Therefore, “[g]iven the absence of available information suggesting that Department employees . . . violate[d] laws, regulations, or policy,” the IG concluded that “this matter does not warrant further investigation[.]”  CoA Institute has filed a FOIA request with the DOJ IG to determine the exact nature of its notification to Congress.

CoA Institute Vice President John J. Vecchione: “The DOJ IG’s response is concerning.  While admitting that the IRS did, in fact, disclose confidential taxpayer information, the IG failed to address the absence of any proper requests for disclosure from the DOJ.  Even more alarming, the IG refused to conduct an investigation into legal violations because of the ‘absence of available information.’  The whole point of an investigation here is to collect the information necessary to determine whether DOJ officials broke the law by inspecting taxpayer data.  Americans deserve to know how Washington handles their most private information.  This incident may be one of the largest and most significant breaches of taxpayer confidentiality laws by the federal government, yet the IG seems to be washing its hands of the matter.”

The DOJ Public Integrity Section and the FBI sought the tax information at issue in order to prosecute non-profit organizations allegedly engaged in prohibited political activity.  As part of its public oversight efforts, CoA Institute obtained records demonstrating that neither agency ever submitted the statutorily-required requests for disclosure of this information to the IRS between 2009 and 2012.

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code provides a strict rule of confidentiality for tax returns and return information.  Unless a statutory exception applies, government agencies and their employees may not disclose such information.  Violations can include fines, termination from employment, and even imprisonment.

To access CoA Institute’s June 29, 2016 Letter to TIGTA and DOJ-OIG, click here.

To access the DOJ IG’s October 12, 2016 response, click here.

To access CoA Institute’s October 19, 2016 FOIA request to DOJ IG, click here.

CoA Institute Files Lawsuit to Obtain Sec. Clinton Ethics Records Related to Clinton Foundation

Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the State Department to release ethics records for former Secretary of State Clinton and her staff.

Recently released emails demonstrate that Clinton Foundation donors may have received special access to Secretary Clinton. Those emails raise questions about whether she and members of her staff adequately addressed potential conflicts of interest. These records will help the public understand whether Secretary Clinton complied with the ethics agreement she signed before becoming Secretary, as well as how the State Department’s ethics office advised her and her staff regarding conflicts of interest.

CoA Institute submitted a FOIA request on August 24, 2016, but the State Department failed to produce any records responsive to the request well past the applicable time limits. In addition, the State Department Inspector General found that 47 percent of presidentially-appointed State Department officials failed to complete their mandatory ethics training during Secretary Clinton’s last full year in office.

Cause of Action Institute Vice President John Vecchione: “It appears that State Department officials during Secretary Clinton’s tenure did not take their ethics responsibilities seriously. Americans have a right to know whether Secretary Clinton and her aides at the State Department flouted ethics requirements in order to grant special treatment to Clinton Foundation supporters.”

In January 2009, during Sec. Clinton’s confirmation, she signed an agreement stating: “If confirmed as Secretary of State, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect upon [the Clinton Foundation], unless I first obtain a written waiver or qualify for a regulatory exemption.”

In its lawsuit, CoA Institute demands copies of recusals and ethics agreements for Secretary Clinton and members of her staff, any ethics waivers or exemptions they may have obtained from the State Department ethics office, and ethics office communications concerning Secretary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.

The full complaint can be found HERE
The exhibits are available HERE
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