Cause of Action Institute Challenges Commerce’s Withholding of Section 232 Uranium Report, Using Policy and Practice of Deferring to White House Disclosure Directives

Last year, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) stepped up its ongoing battle with the Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) over disclosure of Section 232 secretarial reports by filing a lawsuit against the agency for failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests seeking access to a final report concerning the national-security effects of uranium imports.  This past week, CoA Institute filed its motion for summary judgment, laying out the case for Commerce’s failure to meet its FOIA obligations and exposing the infirmities of the government’s privilege claims.

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Commerce Department Ignores Congressional Mandate to Release Auto Tariffs Report, Citing New OLC Opinion on Executive Privilege

Last year, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) filed two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for a copy of the Secretary of Commerce’s final report to the President under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 regarding the national security impacts of the importation of automobiles.  That report, which must be prepared prior to the imposition of tariffs, is required by law to be published in the Federal Register, subject only to redaction for classified and proprietary information.  After Commerce failed to publish the report, and refused to release it under the FOIA, we filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure. Learn More

Commerce Provides Poor Excuse in First Substantive Answer on Secrecy of 232 Auto Tariff Report

Washington, D.C. (June 19, 2019) – After nearly four months, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) has finally received an explanation from the Department of Commerce (Commerce) that claims the Commerce Secretary’s final report to the President regarding the Section 232 investigation into the national security impacts of the Administration’s proposed automobile tariffs may constitute a presidential record. In this determination, which is in response to CoA Institute’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent litigation, Commerce states it is reviewing whether the report does in fact constitute a presidential record, which would remove it from the scope of the FOIA. It also claims that if the report ultimately is classified as an “agency record,” Commerce will still refuse to provide access to the report under the guise of presidential communications or deliberate process privileges.

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CoA urges release of secret 232 auto report in response to POTUS proclamation

CoA urges release of secret 232 auto report in response to POTUS proclamation

Washington, D.C. (May 17, 2019) – In response to the President’s proclamation concerning auto tariffs, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute), a nonpartisan government watchdog organization, urged the release of the Department of Commerce’s Section 232 auto tariff report. CoA Institute filed a freedom of information request for the report when it was finalized, and later sued the administration for failing to respond to the FOIA and release the report.

The President’s proclamation responded to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary’s final report regarding the Section 232 investigation into the national security impact of the import of foreign automobile and automobile parts.

James Valvo, counsel and senior policy advisor at Cause of Action Institute:

“Today’s proclamation by the President, summarizing the Department of Commerce’s Section 232 auto report, serves as the latest reminder that the public deserves to see this report, and we urge its immediate release. The report was paid for by taxpayers and its recommendations could harm American consumers and businesses. The public should not be kept in the dark about findings in a secret report, and that’s why Cause of Action Institute continues to fight for its release to ensure a robust debate on the merits.”

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Media ContactMatt Frendewey, matt.frendewey@causeofaction.org | 202-699-2018

Auto-Tariff Investigation Sets Dangerous Anti-Transparency Precedent

Tariffs are often used as a costly tool that economically harms American consumers and business. These protectionist policies often invite turmoil and government overreach, and the tariffs proposed and implemented by the Trump Administration have been no different. In fact, with each round of proposed tariffs, it seems that the government has become less transparent about its process and rationale.

In an effort to advance its trade agenda, the administration has used four Section 232 investigations into different imports to justify tariffs on national security grounds. Although national security concerns may have a place in trade policy where there is a clear and narrow interest, Section 232 should not be used as a tool to bypass Congress when there is no legitimate national security threat. Nevertheless, this was the purported rationale of initiating the Section 232 investigation into auto imports despite the President’s assertion that the importation of autos and auto-parts themselves do not actually pose a national security threat.

So why was this investigation initiated and what did the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) conclude from its investigation? Commerce proactively published its findings and documents supporting its case for steel and aluminum tariffs but refuses to do the same with its auto investigation.

After Commerce announced that it was launching a Section 232 investigation into the national security impacts of auto imports, they were required by law to notify the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Commerce announced that it sent notification of the investigation to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis but have yet to release a copy of this notification, as they did with the Section 232 investigation into steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as with the uranium investigation.

In June 2018, one month after the investigation into auto imports was announced, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told then-U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch that while Secretary Mattis accepted the proposition for the threats imposed by steel and aluminum imports, Commerce was not yet sure about DOD’s views for the automotive sector. Neither Commerce nor DOD has released the Defense Department’s response memo to the auto-import investigation.

Due to this lack of transparency, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) sent FOIA requests to Commerce and DOD on March 22 seeking DOD’s response to the investigation and any relevant communication regarding this matter. The government has yet to release a substantive response from either agency regarding these requests.

The lack of transparency compared to the steel and aluminum process is stark. The government has announced that it will not be releasing Commerce’s final Section 232 report and recommendations on auto imports to the public. Not only were the reports for steel and aluminum published upon completion but the government is statutorily required to publish in the Federal Register “any portion of the report submitted by the Secretary under subparagraph (A) which does not contain classified information or proprietary information.”

CoA Institute believes that this information should be disclosed as the statute requires, particularly if it is going to be used to justify a potential 25 percent tariff on cars and car parts. This is why CoA Institute filed FOIA requests to Commerce for a copy of the report. After Commerce failed to respond to the request within the statutory timeline, CoA Institute filed a lawsuit against the Commerce Department.

It is troubling that the government is not upholding its legal obligations or open-government practices when it comes to Section 232 investigations. Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, stated that the administration may delay the decision on whether to impose auto-tariffs beyond the 90-day deadline that began when Commerce completed and provided the report to the White House. It is not clear how or what legal justifications exist to allow the administration to defer the decision beyond the May deadline.

However, the lack of transparency on this issue is not a new concern when it comes to tariffs. In September, after reports emerged of potential corruption in the tariff exemption process for the already controversial steel and aluminum tariffs, CoA Institute filed three FOIA requests seeking information to clarify the methodology behind the exemption process. After the government failed to respond to any of the FOIA requests relating to the steel and aluminum tariff exemption process, CoA Institute filed a lawsuit against Commerce for this information. As a result of the lawsuit, the government has agreed to produce relevant records at the end of each month.

Tariffs can be an economically treacherous policy, eroding the economic freedoms of individuals, hurting businesses, and almost always causing consumers to pay more for products as the government picks winners and losers. In this instance, not only is the government imposing tariffs that harm Americans, but it is doing so in a manner that evades transparency and, in regard to the auto-tariff report, fails to comply with its statuary obligations. The path to a stronger economy is one that eliminates barriers to trade, not one that unfairly manipulates the free-market while withholding justification from the public.

Mallory Koch is a communications associate at Cause of Action Institute.

Cause of Action Sues Commerce Dept. for Failing to Release Auto-Tariff Report

Washington, D.C. (Mar. 21, 2019) – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce (Commerce) for failing to respond to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking a copy of the Commerce Secretary’s final report to the President regarding the Section 232 investigation into the national security impacts of the Administration’s proposed foreign automobile tariffs. The Commerce Department has previously stated that it will not make the report public. In an effort to increase transparency and protect Americans’ economic freedom, CoA Institute filed a FOIA request so the public can see the report, but Commerce did not produce it within the statutory timeline.

James Valvo, counsel and senior policy advisor at Cause of Action Institute:

“Commerce claims that the information contained in their report justifies the proposed auto-tariffs, but the government refuses to release this report.  The public should not have to take the government’s word that the report supports tariffs when the administration withholds the document it claims supports its position. The tariffs will harm American consumers and businesses, and the public has a right to see the information contained in the report. We are dedicated to placing this vital information into the public sphere, ensuring that the government complies with its statutory obligations, and we look forward to a robust debate about the merits of the report.”

The Section 232 National Security Investigation of Imports of Automobiles, Including Cars, SUVs, Vans and Light Trucks, and Automotive Parts will provide recommendations for the Administration’s proposal to impose a 25% tariff on imports of cars and car parts. CoA Institute sent requests to both the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Industry and Security for a copy of this report.

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Media ContactMatt Frendewey, matt.frendewey@causeofaction.org | 202-699-2018

 

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