July 20, 2017 | Protect Democracy
Today Protect Democracy filed suit to compel the Office of Management and Budget to respond to our FOIA requests on any discussion of undermining or abolishing the Congressional Budget Office. Read the complaint here. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee, also weighed in on the importance of the CBO and Protect Democracy’s work, you can read his posting here.
Allison Murphy, Counsel for Protect Democracy, said, “Our democracy requires independent sources of information in order for lawmakers to act in an informed manner and the public to understand the actions of government, not just “alternative facts” designed to mislead the public. The CBO was established in response to President Nixon’s abuses of power, to ensure that the public and our lawmakers had a neutral way to become accurately informed. As the Trump Administration makes moves to supplant CBO with dubious, partisan analysis, and openly questions its continued existence, the public has a right to know exactly what the Administration’s plans are for undermining this important source of information.”
In his Medium posting, Senator Wyden said, “CBO continues to be a beacon of truth and facts in Capitol Hill’s often-partisan spin zone. The men and women who work at CBO take complicated bills, analyze them and provide detailed information that leads to real-world outcomes. Bills they analyze or “score” demonstrate how policy impacts Americans. They can predict whether you and your family will have access to health care. Whether Social Security or Medicare will be solvent. What legislation for families’ pocketbooks. Good government watchdog Protect Democracy has been monitoring the many ways the White House is attempting to influence and discredit the CBO. Today they filed a suit against the Trump Administration for their failure to turn over communications regarding the state of CBO. These communications could expose how the White House intends to discredit and defund the office.”
July 18, 2017 | Protect Democracy
In the Cockrum v. Trump Campaign lawsuit, three Americans are suing the Trump Campaign and Roger Stone for violating their privacy and civil rights. They are seeking justice for the Trump Campaign’s role in their hacked, private information being distributed worldwide, and to make sure this never happens to anybody else. Learn more about the lawsuit by watching or reading some of the recent coverage below, and we will keep this page updated as time goes on.
San Francisco Chronicle (Nockleby): “Civil suit against the Trump campaign just might succeed” [7/22/17]
Lawfare (Wittes): “A New Front Opens in L’Affaire Russe” [7/17/17]
The Rachel Maddow Show: Former U.S. solicitor general Walter Dellinger on Cockrum v. Trump Campaign [7/13/17]
Slate (Lithwick): “The Russia Conspiracy Goes to Court” [7/13/17]
Take Care (Shugerman): “A New Civil Case Powerfully Opens a New Front Against Trump for Russia Conspiracy” [7/13/17]
Just Security (Wright): “DNC Hack Victims Sue Trump Campaign and Roger Stone”
The New York Times: “Trump Campaign and Adviser Are Sued Over Leaked Emails” [7/12/13]
July 14, 2017 | Protect Democracy
First Judge to Weigh in on Trump Missile Strikes Sides with Protect Democracy, Orders Administration to Expedite Document Disclosure
Today, a federal judge sided with Protect Democracy in ordering the Departments of Defense, State and Justice to move faster in disclosing President Trump’s legal authority to conduct military strikes against the Syrian regime. In the first court opinion to weigh in on President Trump’s April 6, 2017 Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on Assad, the judge expressed concern that the American people still have not had a chance to weigh in on whether the President has authority to conduct these strikes. As the court put it: “Being closed off from such a debate is itself a harm in an open democracy,” and pointed out that the escalating conflict in Syria means the Administration must rapidly get information to the American people before it’s too late. In the court’s words: “Military strikes cannot be undone.”
Protect Democracy had requested all three Departments produce documents reflecting what the Administration’s legal authority was for conducting the April 6 strike, and after the Administration conducted a second strike, Protect Democracy moved for a preliminary injunction. In today’s opinion, the Court ordered the Department of Defense and State Department to expedite processing of Protect Democracy’s FOIA request, as the Justice Department already had, and ordered the Departments to update the court in two weeks by July 28, a remarkably short timeline seemingly reflecting the Court’s recognition of the urgency of the increasing hostilities in Syria without a proper public debate, which is precisely what motivated Protect Democracy to bring this case.
Allison Murphy, Counsel for Protect Democracy, said: “This ruling reinforces a core principle of our democracy at a critical time: the President does not have a blank check to fire missiles whenever he wants at whomever he wants. While the Assad regime has committed horrible abuses, President Trump is constrained by the law and owes the American people an explanation of his legal authority for ordering these strikes — and for any new military strikes going forward. This decision is a critical defense of Americans’ right to be a check on the executive, as an informed citizenry, on one of the most consequential decisions our government can make, the decision to start a war.”
July 12, 2017 | Protect Democracy
By Ian Bassin, Executive Director, Protect Democracy
When we founded Protect Democracy six months ago, it was to focus on efforts that are absolutely essential to the health of our democracy itself. That interest is a nonpartisan one that should be important to all Americans. Our mission is not about taking sides on policy or political fights that are more appropriately settled at the ballot box.
Since forming, we’ve worked on protecting our core checks and balances — ensuring a separation between politics and law enforcement, supporting an independent civil service and Judiciary, and bolstering the rule of law, especially on matters of war and peace. We made a point not to simply react to the latest headlines.
It became more clear every day, however, that the ultimate check in our democracy — free and fair elections — had an open wound. That in the hacking and distribution of Americans’ private information during the 2016 election, there were real victims. We thought about the people who were not political candidates or public figures, but who were just trying to participate in their democracy at the basic level as Americans always have. And it became obvious that so long as those victims didn’t have justice, their access to our democracy would stand violated and other civic-minded Americans might be chilled from participating.
Read The New York Times: “Trump Campaign and Adviser Are Sued Over Leaked Emails”
July 5, 2017 | Take Care
By Larry Schwartztol, Counsel, Protect Democracy
It should come as little surprise that President Trump’s election integrity commission has, in its first official move, run afoul of longstanding legal norms. After all, the was founded on a false premise. And its vice chair and apparent intellectual architect is Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State, who has made a name for himself as a connoisseur of voter suppression. (He was also recently sanctioned by a federal court for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.”)
On June 28, Kobach signed a letter from the commission sent to every Secretary of State in the country. The letter sought incredibly broad, and highly sensitive, information about every American voter, including (among other things) names, social security number information, party affiliation, voting history since 2006, and records of any felony convictions. It asked to receive this information by July 14.
The inherent problems with this nationwide fishing expedition are clear: the information is far broader than any legitimate study of election integrity could warrant, reinforcing suspicions that the whole enterprise is a vehicle for voter suppression; it violates federal privacy protections for the government to assemble a master database of voting records, party affiliation and other sensitive information; in an era of Russian hacking of election systems, the centralization of this information – not the mention letter’s invitation to transmit it via email – creates a massive target for hackers foreign and domestic.
Dropping this sweeping request on the nation’s election officials also violated federal law. The Paperwork Reduction Act, a law with a longstanding pedigree (if an uninspiring name), governs agencies that want to issue potentially burdensome information requests. The statute covers requests that are mandatory or voluntary, aimed at individuals or organizations. The guiding idea behind the PRA is simple: before the federal government enlists individuals, companies, organization, or state governments into potentially burdensome fact-finding, it should have a good justification and a well thought out plan.
July 1, 2017 | The Open Mind, PBS
Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin was interviewed by host Alexander Heffner on this week’s episode of “The Open Mind.” It was a wide-ranging discussion on the threats our democracy faces, and how Protect Democracy works to sustain it.
BASSIN: Well I think the first thing we need to recognize is that the Constitution along and the laws alone, are not a sufficient backstop. Some of the things that the President has done recently, for example, simply the decision to fire the FBI director, taken irrespective of the reasons behind it, is something that a president is lawfully allowed to do. When we were in the White House, we had a set of rules governing contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice, and the FBI. Those rules have been in place for more than 40 years since Watergate. They’ve been abided by both Democratic and Republican administrations. One of the first things we did at Protect Democracy was issue a memo to the media and to the Hill, to help educate people on those rules. But those rules are not legally enforceable. So we do need to recognize that it is not the Constitution itself and not the laws itself that will protect us, which I think is why President Obama in his farewell address pointed out that our Constitution and our democracy, are not self-executing. They depend on the active fertilization of each subsequent generation of Americans, to reinvest these laws, these norms with meaning, and support. What we have been doing as an organization, is trying to help that process. And there’s four steps that we go through to do that.
The first is public education, putting out memos like the one we did on the rules governing contacts between the White House and the DOJ, which we did in early March, which turned out to be prescient, cause those are the very rules now that are at issue with whether or not the President has been trying to obstruct investigations in the Department of Justice. It’s important to educate people on those rules, because then they become the subject of congressional hearings, media reports, and ultimately citizen response, citizen voting. The second step is monitoring and exposing misbehavior. We do have tool as citizens that can hold the government accountable. We have filed more than 150 Freedom of Information Act requests, which allow us to get access to government records and documents that will show whether misbehavior is taking place. The third step is then inducing oversight, taking the material we received, presenting it to the relevant oversight bodies, and asking them to do the oversight job that is one of the checks that’s built into our system. Now, some of those oversight bodies are being reluctant to act, right now in particular, congress and the Republican majority is not doing the oversight job that they should be doing. So we’ve set a 501c4 advocacy organization, to build public pressure on those oversight bodies to make sure they act. And then finally, the fourth step is litigating, making sure that we’re going to court, and where there acre judicial remedies that we can seek in court, making sure that judges hold the line on core principles that are central to our democracy, if the other checks and the other branches of government fail.
June 26, 2017 | Lawfare
By Justin Florence & Larry Schwartztol , Protect Democracy
Recent reports indicate that President Trump has considered attempting to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—or, given applicable legal constraints, to instruct Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general overseeing Mueller, to do so. It goes without saying that firing Mueller would cross a red line and should trigger dramatic consequences from Congress.
But Congress and the press should be on the lookout for other efforts the president and his political allies might take to impede the investigation, short of attempting to fire Mueller. The following are examples of actions that Congress should treat as active measures by the Trump Administration to undermine an effective and thorough investigation into the Russia matter. Actions along these lines would warrant an aggressive congressional response. Just as Congress would deem the firing of Mueller to constitute a brazen abuse of power, it should consider less obvious forms of interference as unacceptable overreach…
June 13, 2017 | Protect Democracy
Protect Democracy & Others to DOJ IG: Step in Forcefully on WH/DOJ Communications, Prevent Further Damage
In light of near-daily revelations about White House efforts to sideline and discredit the Russia investigation, some involving the Attorney General and the Department of Justice senior leadership, Protect Democracy has written to the Inspector General to urge forceful and urgent action to prevent further inappropriate contacts. As the letter explains, the White House has engaged in a clear pattern of disregard for these policies by directing DOJ how to do its job, which undermines a core pillar of our democracy and cannot be allowed to continue. Protect Democracy was joined on the letter by American Oversight, Center for American Progress, Color of Change, Common Cause, CREDO, Daily Kos, Free Speech for People, The Loyal Opposition, People for the American Way, Public Citizen and Women’s Action for New Directions.
Allison Murphy, Counsel, Protect Democracy:
“There’s been a pattern of this White House and DOJ ignoring longstanding rules designed to keep our law enforcement system independent since the first days of this Administration. Director Comey’s testimony made clear that DOJ leadership is failing to do its job in enforcing these rules — the result is now threatening the very checks and balances that protect our democracy. The Inspector General must step in to help put a stop to inappropriate contacts between the Department of Justice and the White House immediately before more damage is done to DOJ’s independence.”
June 6, 2017 | Take Care
By Allison Murphy, Counsel, Protect Democracy
Last month, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. President Trump has stated that he did so because of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s campaign’s involvement with Russia. Trump has stated that he had asked Comey about this specific investigation and confirmed communicating with Comey about it on several occasions in his letter firing Comey. Also, in the first of those conversations, over dinner at the White House, President Trump reportedly asked Comey for his loyalty, though he later denied doing so. In written memos held by the FBI, Comey memorialized those conversations in which President Trump may have sought to interfere in or obstruct specific investigations. Given President Trump’s documented and acknowledged efforts to interfere with the independence of the FBI, the Senate should presume that could continue under a new FBI Director. It is therefore incumbent upon Senators to ensure that any Trump nominee for FBI Director commits to certain baseline aspects of independence and impartiality before any new nominee is confirmed. Here are 10 questions that require answers:
Read More at TakeCareBlog.com.
June 5, 2017 | Just Security
Fight It with FOIA: How Congress Can Respond to White House Attempts to Block Congressional Oversight
Andy Wright and Justin Florence
The Trump White House took another step last week to weaken the checks and balances at the center of our constitutional system. According to Politico, President Donald Trump’s “White House is telling federal agencies to blow off Democratic lawmakers’ oversight requests.” As Politico reported, “a White House lawyer told agencies not to cooperate with such requests from Democrats, according to Republican sources inside and outside the administration.”
Read More at JustSecurity.org
May 26, 2017 | CNN.com
Editors note: The free press is critical to our democracy. It allows us to get answers about how our government is functioning and hold it accountable for its actions. Protect Democracy team member Matt Lehrich wrote for CNN.com about how the daily White House press briefing, despite its drawbacks, makes our government more democratic and accountable.
The White House daily press briefing is often a predictable piece of kabuki theater.
Clinton-era press secretary Mike McCurry — widely considered one of the best to have manned the podium — famously stayed “deliberately uninformed” about the latest developments in the Monica Lewinsky scandal for the express purpose of being able to deflect questions without lying. And the realities of international diplomacy have, over decades, led spokespeople for presidents of both parties to offer near-identical pabulum on some of America’s most vexing foreign policy questions.
Indeed, the briefing routinely sheds more heat than light, and rarely produces new insight into our government’s inner workings. And, yet, getting rid of it would be bad for the country.
May 24, 2017 | Mic
A watchdog group of former Obama White House lawyers is suing for details on how President Donald Trump reportedly asked top intelligence officials to push back against an FBI probe of his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.
May 24, 2017
Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that President Trump tried to pressure the director of the National Security Agency (NSA) to push back on the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election, and that Trump’s request was documented in a contemporaneous memo. Today, we’re suing the Trump Administration to make public that memo – and any other relevant documents about White House communications with NSA on the subject, including documents regarding reported attempts by senior White House officials to get the NSA to intervene with the FBI.
May 23, 2017
This memorandum addresses questions that have been raised regarding possible White House attempts to invoke Executive Privilege in order to restrict Congress’s access to testimony or written memoranda from fired FBI Director James Comey. President Trump may seek to assert privilege to prevent Congress from receiving memoranda Comey wrote documenting his conversations with President Trump or to block Comey from testifying. Indeed, the White House appears to have already raised privilege concerns with respect to the Russia investigation. In testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee hearing, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referenced “some executive privilege strictures requested by the White House.”
May 23, 2017 | POLITICO
A liberal watchdog group is demanding quick answers on what legal rationale supported President Donald Trump’s military strikes against Syria last month.
The Protect Democracy Project — an organization founded by former Obama administration lawyers — is asking a federal judge for an injunction ordering expedited responses to Freedom of Information Act requests the group filed last month asking the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department to turn over all legal opinions justifying the April 6 strikes.
May 22, 2017 | Lawfare
Last week’s New York Times story detailing Benjamin Wittes’s conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey and Wittes’s own Lawfare post describe in some detail Director Comey’s concerns about inappropriate White House contacts with the Department of Justice. This is a profoundly important issue and one that goes beyond just whether the President interfered with or obstructed any particular investigation. The policies limiting White House-DOJ contacts—which until recently were fairly obscure—play a key role in protecting our constitutional democracy. While this is implicit in the reporting on the Trump-Comey interactions, it’s worth pausing a bit on why.
May 9, 2017
Statement from Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin on the Removal of FBI Director James Comey
“While there are plenty of reasons to fault Director Comey for decisions he has made, for the President to remove the person investigating his campaign for potentially conspiring with a foreign government is beyond Nixonian and threatens the heart and health of our democracy. We need an independent investigation now.”
May 8, 2017 | New York Times
A month after President Trump ordered a military strike on the Syrian regime as punishment for using chemical weapons, his administration has yet to offer a rationale for what lawful authority he had to carry out the attack.
Now, a government watchdog group run by former Obama administration lawyers is suing to force the Trump administration to disclose its legal theory — or concede that it launched the April 6 attack without thinking about the law. While the attack attracted bipartisan support as a political and policy matter, its legal basis was disputed.
May 8, 2017
Cross-posted at Lawfare
Just over a month ago, the Administration launched missile strikes against the Assad regime in Syria. The strikes followed a brutal chemical attack that killed scores of innocent civilians. We are all disturbed by Bashar al-Assad’s horrific attacks on his own citizens. But that cannot obscure the question of what the President’s legal authority was for the missile strikes, or whether he usurped power that belongs to Congress.
May 2, 2017 | Huffington Post
A nonprofit watchdog organization has filed suit against two federal agencies, seeking any documents concerning possible harassment of federal workers amid political suppression of their work. One of the agencies, the Department of Energy, requested information almost immediately after Donald Trump moved into the White House on workers who had links to climate change issues.
“We’re going to court because the integrity of the civil service is vital to our democracy and because the Trump administration has already demonstrated a troubling pattern of bullying civil servants and trying to silence dissent,” said a statement by Ben Berwick, a lawyer for United to Protect Democracy, the group that brought the suits.
May 1, 2017 | NPR
As Trump appointees take their new positions in the federal bureaucracy, a legal battle is escalating over alleged intimidation of the civil servants who make the government function.
The nonprofit United to Protect Democracy is suing the Departments of Energy and of Health and Human Services for records that would document or disprove such allegations. One of the group’s lawyers, Ben Berwick, wrote in an online post that the goal is “protecting the civil service from purges, intimidation or politicization.”
April 27, 2017 | Washington Post
Watchdog group, citing “integrity of civil service,” sues Trump to find out if feds are being bullied
A watchdog group led by former Obama administration lawyers filed lawsuits Thursday against three federal agencies to force them to release communications the group suspects show the Trump administration is bullying civil servants.
The complaints, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, contend that the Department of Health and Human Services, Energy Department and State Department are violating the law by refusing to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act for communications about career employees between top White House political aides and their counterparts at the agencies.
April 27, 2017
Today we filed suit against two federal agencies and we are appealing the decision of a third in order to force the Trump Administration to come clean about its treatment of civil servants. We’re going to court because the integrity of the civil service is vital to our democracy and because the Trump Administration has already demonstrated a troubling pattern of bullying civil servants and trying to silence dissent.
When we formed Protect Democracy, we worked with experts on what keeps democracies healthy – and what leads to their decline – to identify several mission-critical principles to defend. One of those is protecting the civil service from purges, intimidation, or politicization.
April 19, 2017
Protect Democracy Calls on White House to Prevent Improper Political Meddling in Government Agencies
United to Protect Democracy is calling on the White House to issue and enforce a robust policy to prevent inappropriate political interference in federal government functions. For more than four decades, Administrations of both parties have committed to such policies, which help ensure that the government is run for the benefit of the public and not used as a tool to benefit political allies or punish political enemies of the President.
April 19, 2017 | Washington Post
Dueling letters from disparate coalitions with opposing perspectives demonstrate the dangers of politically contaminated federal employment at a time when congressional Republicans are moving to weaken civil service due process protections.
April 11, 2017 | Slate
Late last month, a group of 25 conservatives sent an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which they implored him to bring long-needed reforms to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Among their suggestions: put an end to the division’s obsession with protecting the rights of minorities and “return to race-neutral Voting Rights Act enforcement.” The letter also recommended granting political appointees—the officials in the DOJ’s so-called front office—more power to decide who works in the division and minimizing the role of career attorneys “who are reliably opposed to President Trump’s agenda.”
April 11, 2017 | Take Care
Last week, we posted about a letter that was sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions by a veritable rogues gallery of lawyers opposed to the enforcement of anti-discrimination provisions in federal voting rights law. As we noted, “not only do Trump and Sessions’ more vocal supporters hope that this administration will stop using the Civil Rights Division to shield people of color from discrimination, but they also hope to use the Civil Rights Division as a sword to subject vulnerable minorities to still more discrimination.”
April 11, 2017
Dear Attorney General Sessions:
We write to you about ensuring that hiring and other personnel decisions in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are based on merit, rather than improper considerations such as actual or perceived political affiliation, as required by law. On March 28, you received an open letter from 25 signatories, suggesting certain “internal reforms” of the Civil Rights Division. Although we disagree with many aspects of that letter, we write now to address a specific concern with the recommendation that “[t]he Assistant Attorney Generals in each component Division must preserve or reacquire hiring authority and not leave the decisions in the hands of career bureaucrats who are reliably opposed to President Trump’s agenda.”
April 7, 2017
Dear Mr. McGahn,
We write to request that you publicly disclose the legal opinion justifying the President’s authority to order military strikes against the Syrian regime on April 6, 2017.
We are all horrified by the atrocities that have been committed against the people of Syria for far too long. But however the United States responds to these brutal acts must be rooted in domestic and international law.
April 7, 2017
Today, we’ve opened an investigation into an important issue for our democracy. Just now, we filed open records requests with seven national security offices demanding to know what – if any – legal justification President Trump relied on before launching military strikes against the Syrian regime. We’re also calling on the White House to immediately disclose the legal basis for the President’s actions.
March 24, | Washington Post
A watchdog group led by former Obama administration lawyers is calling for an investigation into whether the White House is trying to interfere with the Justice Department’s decision to block the merger of health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna.
“We are concerned that Administration officials may have engaged in inappropriate conduct regarding the Anthem-Cigna litigation,” Ian Bassin, the executive director of United to Protect Democracy, wrote…
March 23, 2017
United to Protect Democracy – a nonpartisan, nonprofit group formed by former White House lawyers – is calling for a thorough investigation of potentially inappropriate contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the proposed merger between health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna.
March 17, 2017 | POLITICO
Reince Priebus’s request that the FBI refute a report of Donald Trump associates’ contacts with Russian intelligence appears to have violated the White House’s policy restricting political interference in pending investigations, according to a copy of the policy obtained by POLITICO.
March 8, 2017
The promise that every American will be treated equally under the law and that none is above the law is a bedrock principle of American democracy. The freedom from political influence — real or perceived — on law enforcement underpins all of our other freedoms. By contrast, political influence or interference in law enforcement has been a clear hallmark distinguishing authoritarian regimes from true democracies around the globe.
February 23, 2017 | POLITICO
Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight.