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

GAO Again Forced to Sue Treasury 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 – The day after the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee released two reports detailing Russian efforts to influence U.S. policy, including energy policy by promoting environmentalist themes, the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO) filed suit against the United States Department of Treasury for related documents. 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 Complaint)

This lawsuit seeks certain, specific records of a high-ranking Treasury official discussing two congressional oversight reports detailing apparent Russian extension of its campaign, long underway in Europe, to oppose fracking and otherwise promote the “climate” agenda. Other records sought pertain to an effort by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith to obtain responses from Treasury, which inquiry has fallen on deaf ears. The latter was reported earlier this month in the Washington Examiner. (The Request)

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 Treasury employees, one former and one current, or any individual assigned the title of Acting Director, Office of Environment and Energy.

Today’s suit follows on litigation filed by GAO on IER’s behalf this summer seeking certain correspondence pertaining to how career staff are working with outside parties on aspects of the White House’s position on controversial “climate” lobbying agenda, specifically items being pursued by Wall Street and other activist interests.

Also relevant to this action are two suits GAO has filed for IER against the State Department, including earlier this week, and this past summer seeking records pertaining to China’s efforts — demonstrated in public records obtained under FOIA — to engage “green” pressure groups to organize the post-Obama Washington, D.C. “climate” world.

Treasury, which owed IER responsive records, among other responses, by November 23, 2018, has only said that someone will get back to IER, at some point in the future, because of “unusual circumstances”.

Increasing public revelations confirm that these issues are too important to face 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 that sadly this does not appear to be 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.

Treasury 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. Treasury 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, Treasury 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.