The Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on Friday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State, seeking records regarding U.S. Secret Service spending at Trump family-owned properties.
“The requested records will let the public see ‘what their government [has been] up to,’ with respect to how much businesses owned by the President or his family, including the Trump Organization, have charged the [DHS and State Department] – and thus, American taxpayers – to house the officials and agents who accompany and protect the President when he travels,” the lawsuit notes.
Between September 11, 2018 and March 6, 2020, the Post submitted 19 separate FOIA requests to DHS and the State Department regarding payments “made to the Trump Organization or related entities” by the Secret Service.
“To date, DHS has not produced a single record responsive to any of the DHS Requests,” the lawsuit notes. “To date, the State Department has not produced a single record responsive to any of the State Department Requests.”
The documents requested by the outlet, however, span an even greater amount of time. The Post has requested “records relating to payments that the [DHS and State Department] have made since January 2017 to provide security or any other services to President Trump and his companions during trips to certain properties owned by the Trump Organization or other corporate entities under the control of the President or his family.”
So far, according to the lawsuit, the administration has been tight-lipped with such documentation–in apparent violation of FOIA law regarding the provision of publicly-owned-and-created documents to interested members of the public and the press.
Massive amounts of public spending directed by President Donald Trump at properties he owns undergird the litigation here.
“According to the Post’s reporting, President Trump has visited properties owned by his private company, the Trump Organization, on more than 350 days since January 2017,” the lawsuit notes.
But allies of the administration and the Trump family itself have been quick with excuses to explain away this apparent conflict of interest.
Per the 45th president’s second-oldest son–cited in the lawsuit:
Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump has stated that Secret Service agents and other government officials traveling with the President “stay at our properties for free” – charging only for things “like housekeeping,” and that “it saves a fortune” for the President to stay at Trump Organization properties “because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50.”
As it turns out, Eric Trump wasn’t really telling the truth.
“[G]overnment documents previously disclosed pursuant to FOIA requests show that the Secret Service has paid as much as $650 per night for hotel rooms at Mar-a-Lago, and as much as $17,000 per month for use of a cottage at Trump National,” the lawsuit notes.
Additional reporting confirms the general tenor of such allegedly over-the-top spending allegations.
In early April of this year it was reported that Trump forced the Secret Service to spend some $45,000 on golf carts by way of an “emergency order” at one of the president’s family-owned golf clubs.
Days later, an independent analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington determined that Trump and his family had spent more than 10 times the amount of public money traveling in three years than immediately prior president Barack Obama’s family spent in eight years.
Against this free-spending backdrop, the Post is requesting the two agencies targeted by their litigation be forced to produce the statutorily-mandated records in response to their prior request by way of a court injunction.
“There is no basis under FOIA to withhold, in whole or in part, the records requested by the Post, particularly when substantially the same records covering different time periods were produced after litigation,” the filing alleges. “DHS [and the State Department have] wrongfully withheld agency records in violation of FOIA.”
You can read the lawsuit in full below.
[Image via OLIVIER DOULIERY_AFP via Getty Images]
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