GAO Again Forced to Sue State Department for Public Records - Climate Litigation Watch

GAO Again Forced to Sue State Department for Public Records

December 17, 2018

GAO Again Forced to Sue State Department for Public Records 
Group seeks records pertaining to congressional oversight and other aspects of Russian, other efforts to influence U.S. ‘climate’ position

Washington, DC – As the ink dries on this year’s ”historic agreement” to meet again, next year, to negotiate controversial plans deepening Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas in the name of climate change, today the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO) filed suit against the United States Department of State for documents relevant to this climate industry. GAO filed this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the Institute for Energy Research.

The lawsuit seeks certain, specific records of a high-ranking State official mentioning one of two congressional oversight reports detailing apparent efforts by Russia to extend to the U.S. its campaign, begun in Europe, to oppose hydraulic fracturing and otherwise promoting Western adoption of the “climate” agenda. The suit also seeks correspondence discussing House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s inquiry into the matter. The latter was reported earlier this month in the Washington Examiner.

IER also requested correspondence relating to Russia, hydraulic fracturing and environmental advocacy, over two specified periods of time, that were to or from two named, high-ranking career State employees, one former and one current, or any individual assigned the title of Acting Director, Office of Environment and Energy.

Today’s suit follows GAO’s ongoing litigation for IER against the State Department for records pertaining to China’s efforts — some of which were revealed in emails obtained under FOIA — to engage “green” pressure groups to organize the post-Obama Washington, D.C. “climate” world.

State, which owed IER responsive records, among other responses, by November 23, 2018, has only acknowledged receipt of the request, failing to provide any of the legally required responses. When pressed, State declined to provide any such response citing to a “backlog”.

These issues are too important to face a bureaucratic runaround and delays. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogen wrote on December 10, 2017, “Washington is waking up to the huge scope and scale of Chinese Communist Part influence operations inside the United States, which permit American institutions of all kinds.”  Similarly, Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston wrote just this month, in his highly relevant piece “Roll Back China’s Soft-Power Campaign”, “U.S. leaders haven’t yet paid sufficient attention to China’s corresponding soft-power campaign. Mr. Xi is leading a carefully organized, well-funded, often covert effort to reduce foreign opposition to his grand strategy.” Evidence both from Europe and the United States shows these concerns extend beyond China to, e.g., Russian efforts to include U.S. policy.

Focusing on China, Galston cites to to a “report assess[ing] examples of China’s rapidly growing influence on American society and politics—in Congress, state and local governments, universities, think tanks, corporations, the media and the Chinese-American community. Startlingly, China’s effort depends on the cooperation of many “nominally independent actors” within the U.S.” Galston continued:

“China also increasingly offers funding to American think tanks willing to portray their nation in a positive light…All Chinese gifts and grants should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, beyond the standard practices for other charitable contributions….Think tanks should guard their independence jealously.”

Emails cited by IER in its recent FOIA requests, and related litigation filed by GAO, show the unfortunate truth that this is not always the case. Further, the same emails confirm a willingness among some federal employees working on, at least, “climate” issues to promote China’s preferred policies, which plainly are not in the U.S. interest.

State was required by law to demonstrate that it intends to process the requests and is doing so. This means providing, among other things, what an initial canvass suggests is the scope of potentially responsive records, including the scope of the records it plans to produce and the scope of documents that it plans to withhold under any FOIA exemptions.

As IER noted, this request is made to inform the public about an issue of great public interest. State failed to offer even the slightest indication it was in fact processing the request, such as the required response to IER’s requests for fee waiver. As such, State suggested this matter has been tossed on the pile of requests that are not likely to be satisfied without filing suit.

Attorney Chris Horner filed the suit for IER on behalf of GAO. Both GAO and IER look forward to resolving the State Department’s public obligations sooner rather than later, but intends to fully pursue its rights and these records in an effort to educate the public about the role of public officials in this ideological campaign.