Trump Administration Can’t Hide Jared Kushner–Led Office From FOIA Requests, Watchdogs Claim in New Court Filing

An attempt by the Trump administration to dismiss a lawsuit against its Jared Kushner–led Office of American Innovation (OAI) for failing to respond to public records requests is being challenged by two government watchdog groups.

Related: Justice Department sued after Jared Kushner prison reform ‘opened the floodgates to cronyism,’ watchdog alleges

Democracy Forward and Food & Water Watch filed a brief in a federal district court on Monday, opposing the administration’s motion to dismiss the nonprofit watchdogs’ February lawsuit against the office for ignoring Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

In its May motion, the administration claimed that the office—despite launching initiatives, implementing programs and imposing duties on government agencies—exists solely to advise President Donald Trump and therefore qualifies for a narrow exception from the rule that all executive branch offices are subject to FOIA.

“The government’s claims cannot be reconciled with the statute, the cases, or with Plaintiffs’ well-pleaded factual allegations, which plausibly establish that OAI exercises substantial authority independent from the President and therefore is subject to FOIA,” the watchdogs’ opposition filing states. “The government’s motion to dismiss therefore should be denied.”

Democracy Forward and Food & Water Watch filed information requests with the office to see whether conflicts of interest within the Trump administration were improperly influencing policy-making decisions.

“It seems that Kushner is operating fairly independently in this far-reaching [office], so we think this is not one of those narrow cases in which entities in the White House solely exist to advise the president,” Karianne Jones, counsel for Democracy Forward, told Newsweek on Tuesday. “We think it’s operating much more broadly, working with private contractors and other agencies to implement federal law and federal programs.”

Jones added that Kushner may be a senior White House adviser, but wears two hats.

“Courts have before held that just because an individual might at some point be an adviser to the president, if they’re also running an entity wielding a lot of independent authority, that entity can still be considered an agency,” she said.

The office, established in March 2017, played a big role in Trump’s $200 billion infrastructure plan that put emphasis on seeking out private investors.

Zachary Corrigan, a senior staff attorney for Food & Water Watch, which requested documents on water privatization, told Newsweek that the lawsuit seeks to uncover any private deals by the office and Kushner, who continues to face scrutiny for potential conflicts of interest.

“It’s no surprise that the administration wants to try to dismiss this lawsuit,” Corrigan said, “Because it doesn’t want anybody knowing what exactly the dealings are that are going on with this office or the rest of the administration.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Newsweek on Tuesday.

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