Non-profit

American Oversight (AO)

Website:

www.americanoversight.org

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

81-5294830

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Formation:

2017

Type:

Left-Wing Judicial Activist Group

Executive Director:

Austin Evers

American Oversight (AO) is an activist and litigation organization focusing on filing open records requests targeting Republican interests, especially the administration of President Donald Trump. The organization was launched in March 2017, following and in response to the election of President Trump’s inauguration and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.[1] As of January 2019, all of its investigations and litigation are directed at Republicans; it claims to be “the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration,” with more than 1000 open records requests and 56 lawsuits filed in 2018.[2]

The group was involved in opposing the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 and filed records requests and legal actions during that summer seeking documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the George W. Bush White House and as an attorney working on the investigations of then-President Bill Clinton with the Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC).[3] [4] Announcing its desire to obtain information regarding the OIC, AO warned the records might show Kavanaugh had leaked secret grand jury information to the media while working for the OIC.[5] But once released the records produced no evidence of wrongdoing by either Kavanaugh or the OIC.[6]

While promoting itself as a “non-partisan” watchdog, American Oversight frequently appears explicitly partisan in its choice of investigative projects.[7]

In April 2018, anticipating that Democrats could take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and begin investigations of the Trump administration in January 2019, AO announced a new policy of launching “parallel” investigations that would duplicate and amplify the work of Democratic-controlled committees. This policy was not implemented for investigations conducted by Republican committees that had then been in control of Congress during AO’s entire existence.[8]

As of the end of 2018, at least 11 of American Oversight’s 17 staffers and three of its four board members have known career histories with major left-wing organizations, Democratic Party campaigns, or Democratic officials.[9]

Origins

In January 2017, dozens of high-dollar left wing political donors met at a Florida resort to hear about a proposal to produce a “steady stream of open records requests” and lawsuits against Trump, his administration and his family, as the means to generate “anti-Trump media coverage.” The overall strategy was defined as “resist the normalization of Donald Trump” with the ultimate goal to defeat him in 2020 or “through impeachment.”[10]

The creation of new organizations, such as American Oversight, was not suggested in the document. But AO’s agenda bears a striking similarity to what the document proposed, and at least two of AO’s top staff have work histories with two of the main organizations mentioned in the proposal: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and American Bridge 21st Century.[11]

A November 2017 report in the Washington Free Beacon referenced “confidential documents” it had obtained relating to a January 2017 meeting at a “posh resort” with more than 100 “liberal mega-donors” in which Clinton family-aligned operative David Brock proposed an aggressive open records effort to be aimed at the incoming Trump administration.[12]

AO claims to be “the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration,” with more than 1000 open records requests filed in 2018 – an average of four requests made every business day. In addition, it reports 56 lawsuits filed during the year (more than one per week).[13] [14] The website also provides searchable databases for both the open records documents and the overall investigations to which those documents pertain.[15] [16] While the Brock briefing document does not propose creation of new organizations, American Oversight emerged within weeks of the alleged January meeting, with a mission very similar to what was proposed in the document.

Additionally, two of AO’s key staffers have work histories with CREW and American Bridge.

Senior advisor Melanie Sloan, a former Democratic Congressional aide, co-founded CREW and served as the organization’s executive director until 2014.[17] She is also on the advisory board of Restore Public Trust, another left-wing advocacy organization involved in ethics activities against the Trump administration.[18]

Sarah Studley, AO’s investigative counsel, is a former employee of American Bridge 21st Century, a Brock-associated political committee which conducts opposition research against Republican politicians.[19]

Trump Administration Investigations

American Oversight filed its first open records request on March 1, 2017, seeking employment records from the University of Florida for Alexander Acosta, at that nominee for U.S. Secretary of Labor.[20] On March 13, American Oversight issued a news release announcing its launch as a supposedly “non-partisan ethics organization.”[21]

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker

AO demanded an investigation into whether recently-named acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker had violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that precludes certain government officials from active participation in partisan political campaigns.[22] Earlier in 2018, a campaign account left over from Whitaker’s failed 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate from Iowa had received $8,800 in contributions. As of late 2018, Whitaker had an outstanding debt of $49,187 from the campaign (covered by a personal loan). The four year old account spent almost $472,000 in the failed 2014 effort, while the victorious candidate in the race and her general election rival each spent $12 million.[23] [24]

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

AO filed open records requests for personal emails between two members of the Trump family, both of whom are formal advisors to President Trump, and federal employees with whom they are communicating. Aside from speculations regarding “violations of records rules” for using private email accounts, AO does not assert any specific law breaking that may have occurred.[25]

Prohibition on Transgender Military Service

AO filed freedom of information requests seeking the details behind the July 2018 announcement from President Trump that transgender individuals would not be permitted to serve in the military. The President had cited consultations with “my Generals” and military experts as the basis for his change in policy. AO was not citing a law violation by the President, but instead seeking proof the consultation with military officers took place. [26]

Partisan Investigations

As of the end of 2018 American Oversight claimed to have filed more than 50 public records lawsuits against government agencies, was filing an average of four new public records requests every business day (more than 1000 for the year), and had already published “tens of thousands of documents” from these activities. These investigations appear to have all been directed at the Trump administration, which AO asserts “has been plagued by scandal, misconduct, and conflicts of interest,” or Republicans generally.[27] After nearly two full years in operation, there had been no discernible effort by AO to investigate or file open records requests seeking information regarding misdeeds by Democrats.

Uranium One (Hillary Clinton) Lawsuit

In February 2018 American Oversight sued the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking to “uncover the facts behind Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to reopen an investigation into Uranium One and Hillary Clinton.” AO pursued the matter to find out whether “Sessions’ participation in this matter was consistent with his recusal from all matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.” AO stipulated this as part of its overall investigation of “the Trump administration’s attempts to politicize the Justice Department.”[28]

In early 2013 Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, obtained majority ownership of Uranium One, a Canadian uranium mining company with assets in the United States. The deal made the Russian agency one of the world’s largest sources of uranium and – according to a 2015 New York Times report – brought Russian President Vladimir Putin “closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.” Because of its mining interests in the U.S., approval for the deal also required oversight from the U.S. Department of State during the period when Hillary Clinton was the U.S. Secretary of State.[29]

During the period of this oversight and in the years leading up to the deal, the chairman of Uranium One made $2.35 million in donations through his family foundation to the Canadian subsidiary of the Clinton Foundation – donations not disclosed while the U.S. Department of State, then headed by Hillary Clinton, was involved in approval of the sale of uranium. Also during this period, a $500,000 fee for a Moscow speech by former President Bill Clinton was paid by a Russian investment bank with both close relations to the Russian government and a “buy” recommendation on Uranium One stock.[30]

The FBI had begun to investigate Uranium One and other matters regarding the Clinton Foundation in August 2016, during the final months of the Obama administration. Citing a meeting between the U.S. Justice Department and “senior FBI officials,” the New York Times reports they had a concern that following up further at that time “could influence the presidential race and suggest they were favoring Mr. Trump.” A decision was made to “keep the case open but wait until after the election to determine their next steps” – a decision that reportedly “infuriated” some FBI agents who believe “politics” was influencing it.[31]

Parallel Investigations Initiative

In April 2018 American Oversight introduced its Parallel Investigations Initiative. Anticipating the potential for Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2019 and a “surge in congressional oversight activity” against the Trump administration that would follow, AO announced its plan to track the investigations that might be launched by Democrats, and then file open records requests for the same information so as to duplicate the public scrutiny applied to the executive branch.[32] “The Trump administration has no idea what’s coming,” begins AO’s announcement of the parallel investigations explicitly intended to be done in tandem with Democratic-controlled congressional committees.[33]

Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Process

During the confirmation hearings regarding future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh taking place during summer and early fall 2018, American Oversight filed several lawsuits, legal motions and freedom of information requests seeking documents regarding Kavanaugh’s previous federal employment within the White House under President George W. Bush, and while working on the investigations of President Clinton by then-independent counsel Ken Starr. AO filed its lawsuits on behalf of six Democratic U.S. Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a group seeking greater transparency from the Supreme Court. The requests and lawsuits were sent to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Independent Counsel, and the National Archives and Records Administration.[34]

One concern was an allegation that Kavanaugh had leaked grand jury secrets to the media while working on the investigation of President Clinton for the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) Ken Starr.

The report was released shortly thereafter, but made no reference to Kavanaugh and stated the investigation had turned up no evidence of misconduct by the OIC, saying Starr’s team had “rebutted the prima facie showing that it was the source of the disclosures.”[35]

After learning the report it had demanded did not implicate Kavanaugh in wrongdoing by the OIC, and furthermore did not implicate the OIC in wrongdoing either, American Oversight responded by stating the document still did not “exonerate Judge Kavanaugh because it largely addressed a narrow time period when he was not working for the Starr Commission.”[36]

Leadership

Officers

The senior leadership staff of American Oversight consists of executive director Austin Evers and senior advisor Melanie Sloan.[37] As of December 2018 there were 17 additional employees listed on the website, many with work histories as left wing activists, campaign staff from the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign, and former Obama administration officials.[38]

Austin Evers is the executive director for AO and its founder. He is a former senior counsel to the Obama administration’s State Department.[39]

Melanie Sloan, AO’s senior advisor, is a former congressional staffer and the founder of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). She previously worked for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), former Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware), and former Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan). She is also on the advisory board of Restore Public Trust.[40]

John Bies is chief counsel. He spent seven years in the U.S. Department of Justice as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Obama administration, where his responsibility was to advise “executive branch officials on FOIA, congressional oversight, executive privilege, ethics, separation of powers, and other constitutional, statutory, and administrative law issues.”[41]

Ty Diringer is AO’s deputy director for outreach and operations and a former staffer from the 2016 Hillary for America campaign.[42]

Miranda Keating is AO’s investigations director. She formerly served as a research director for People for the American Way.[43]

Clark Pettig is AO’s communications director. He was a press secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Obama administration and a communications staffer for the Obama 2012 reelection campaign.[44]

Sarah Studley is AO’s investigative counsel. She is a previous employee of the Michigan State Senate Democrats and American Bridge 21st Century.[45]

Cerissa Cafasso is a lawyer for AO. Her prior post was in the Obama administration as counselor to the deputy secretary and counsel to the solicitor at the U.S. Department of Labor.[46]

Shine Cho is a researcher for AO. She previously worked for “an opposition research firm supporting progressive campaigns in the 2018 midterm elections.”[47]

Amanda Teuscher is AO’s web editor and former managing editor at the left-wing American Prospect magazine.[48]

Lane Corrigan is a communications associate at AO. She previously interned for the Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and at the Project On Government Oversight.[49]

Board of Directors

American Oversight’s board of directors includes Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society and formerly general counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice America; Kyle Herrig, a director at the New Venture Fund, a major donor to left-wing organizations; and Kathleen Clark, an associate reporter for the American Law Institute.[50]

References

  1. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT WILL DO THE JOB THAT CONGRESS WON’T.” American Oversight. March 13, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-will-do-the-job-that-congress-wont
  2. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about; and “COUNTDOWN TO OVERSIGHT IN 2019.” American Oversight. December 27, 2018. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/countdown-to-oversight-in-2019
  3. Bolt, Allison. “Nonpartisan Watchdog Group Sues Two Government Agencies for Brett Kavanaugh’s Records.” Paste. July 12, 2018. Accessed December 27, 2018. https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/07/nonpartisan-watchdog-group-sues-for-trump-administ.html
  4. “UNCOVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT SUPREME COURT NOMINEE KAVANAUGH.” American Oversight. September 17, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/uncovering-the-truth-about-supreme-court-nominee-kavanaugh
  5. Mallonee, Mary Kay. “Report on Starr investigation leaks doesn’t mention Brett Kavanaugh by name.” CNN. August 23, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/starr-investigation-leak-report-kavanaugh/index.html
  6. Mallonee, Mary Kay. “Report on Starr investigation leaks doesn’t mention Brett Kavanaugh by name.” CNN. August 23, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/starr-investigation-leak-report-kavanaugh/index.html
  7. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT WILL DO THE JOB THAT CONGRESS WON’T.” American Oversight. March 13, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-will-do-the-job-that-congress-wont
  8. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT LAUNCHES PARALLEL INVESTIGATIONS INITIATIVE.” American Oversight. April 26, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-launches-parallel-investigations-initiative
  9. About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about; and “Board.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/board
  10. Schoffstall, Joe. “Read the Confidential David Brock Memo Outlining Plans to Attack Trump.” Washington Free Beacon. January 26, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018.https://freebeacon.com/politics/david-brock-memo-attack-trump/
  11. About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  12. Schoffstall, Joe. “Clinton Lawyer, Podesta Involved With Anti-Trump Litigation Group.” Washington Free Beacon. November 3, 2017. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://freebeacon.com/issues/clinton-lawyer-podesta-involved-with-anti-trump-litigation-group/
  13. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  14. “COUNTDOWN TO OVERSIGHT IN 2019.” American Oversight. December 27, 2018. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/countdown-to-oversight-in-2019
  15. “Investigations.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigations
  16. “Documents.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/documents
  17. Singer, Paul. “Ethics Watchdog Drops Its Non-partisan Veneer.” USA Today. August 14, 2014. Accessed January 07, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2014/08/14/ethics-watchdog-drops-its-non-partisan-veneer/81232064/.
  18. “Who We Are.” Restore Public Trust. Accessed December 20, 2018. http://restorepublictrust.org/about/
  19. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  20. “RECORDS FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA REGARDING ALEXANDER ACOSTA’S LAW SCHOOL DEAN APPLICATION.” American Oversight. March 1, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/document/uf-responsive-records-regarding-r-alexander-acostas-law-school-deanship-application
  21. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT WILL DO THE JOB THAT CONGRESS WON’T.” American Oversight. March 13, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-will-do-the-job-that-congress-wont
  22. “ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL WHITAKER’S FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.” American Oversight.November 27, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/acting-attorney-general-whitakers-financial-and-political-conflicts-of-interest
  23. “Congress: Also-ran candidate: Matt Whitaker (R)” OpenSecrets. Accessed January 3, 2019. https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/alsorun?cid=N00035481&cycle=2014
  24. “Iowa Senate 2014 Race.” OpenSecrets. Accessed January 3, 2019. https://www.opensecrets.org/races/candidates?cycle=2014&id=IAS2
  25. “IVANKA TRUMP’S AND JARED KUSHNER’S ROLES IN THE ADMINISTRATION.” American Oversight. December 10, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/ivanka-trumps-role-in-the-administration
  26. “THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN.” American Oversight. September 21, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/trump-administrations-transgender-military-ban
  27. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  28. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT SUES DOJ OVER DECISION TO REOPEN URANIUM ONE INVESTIGATION.” February 12, 2018. American Oversight. January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-sues-doj-decision-reopen-uranium-one-investigation
  29. Becker, Jo; and Mike McIntire. “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” New York Times. April 23, 2015. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html
  30. Becker, Jo; and Mike McIntire. “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” New York Times. April 23, 2015. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html
  31. Apuzzo, Matt; and Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman and William K. Rashbaum. “F.B.I.’s Email Disclosure Broke a Pattern Followed Even This Summer.” New York Times. November 1, 2016. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/us/politics/fbi-james-comey-hillary-clinton-donald-trump.html
  32. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT LAUNCHES PARALLEL INVESTIGATIONS INITIATIVE.” American Oversight. April 26, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-launches-parallel-investigations-initiative
  33. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT LAUNCHES PARALLEL INVESTIGATIONS INITIATIVE.” American Oversight. April 26, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-launches-parallel-investigations-initiative
  34. “UNCOVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT SUPREME COURT NOMINEE KAVANAUGH.” American Oversight. September 17, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/uncovering-the-truth-about-supreme-court-nominee-kavanaugh
  35. Mallonee, Mary Kay. “Report on Starr investigation leaks doesn’t mention Brett Kavanaugh by name.” CNN. August 23, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/starr-investigation-leak-report-kavanaugh/index.html
  36. “UNCOVERING THE TRUTH ABOUT SUPREME COURT NOMINEE KAVANAUGH.” American Oversight. September 17, 2018. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/uncovering-the-truth-about-supreme-court-nominee-kavanaugh
  37. “AMERICAN OVERSIGHT WILL DO THE JOB THAT CONGRESS WON’T.” American Oversight. March 13, 2017. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/american-oversight-will-do-the-job-that-congress-wont
  38. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  39. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  40. “Who We Are.” Restore Public Trust. Accessed December 20, 2018. http://restorepublictrust.org/about/
  41. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  42. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  43. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  44. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  45. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  46. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  47. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  48. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  49. “About.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/about.
  50. “Board.” American Oversight. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.americanoversight.org/board.

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Austin Evers
    Executive Director
  2. Kyle Herrig
    Board Member
  3. Melanie Sloan
    Senior Adviser
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 2017

  • Available Filings

    No filings available.

    American Oversight (AO)

    1030 15TH ST NW SUITE B255
    WASHINGTON, DC 20005-1503