Today in OpenGov: Muckrocking


AM PEOTUS TWEETS: This morning, President-Elect Donald Trump used his Twitter account to comment on his global conflicts of interest in office: “I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”

VERIFY THEN VERIFY: The President-elect is right about the need to avoid the appearance of corruption. It’s the reality of corruption that’s the problem. Trump stepping “completely out of business operations” is not creating a blind trust, much less liquidation prior to doing so. The challenge is that Trump has at least 144 business in at least 25 countries, each of which represents a conflict of interest. We don’t know the total because he never disclosed his tax returns. The Trump family running them while Trump is in office would be a path to kleptocracy. “Trust but verify” won’t work here. Verifying a blind trust may, if his children are also out of the businesses, but we just don’t know until we actually see the documents Trump described.

ETHICS COUNSELING: Former White House ethics counsels Norm Eisen and Richard Painter issued a statement on Trump’s tweets that aligns with Sunlight’s view:
The president-elect this morning said on Twitter that he will announce details on December 15 of how he will completely exit his “business operations”  That’s not enough. Although it is important that he have no involvement in Trump business operations, in order to avoid conflicts, he must also exit the  ownership of his businesses through using a blind trust or equivalent. Otherwise he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest, and constantly raise questions.
For example, unless he divests ownership, he will have an interest in the foreign government payments and benefits that flow to his businesses daily. That creates such a serious conflict of interest that the framers of the constitution prohibited it for the president in the emoluments clause. Far smaller potential conflicts led every president for four decades to do a blind trust or the equivalent, and so should Trump. All that said, we have to wait for the details, and if he goes the true blind trust, we will be the first to support it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A President-elect’s statements, at a mic or on Twitter, are news. Neither the media nor Sunlight can ignore them. We can fact-check and reshare with context, which is what we’re going to do. Given his record of fabrications, Trump’s statements can’t be trusted until he’s under oath.

125 DAYS: Reminder: Trump’s last press conference was on July 27, 2016. Both President Bush and Obama held a press conference within three days of accepting the results of the election.

SWAMP INC: A new Public Citizen report found “that out of the 75 landing team members announced by the Trump transition organization, 70 percent (53 members) have some corporate affiliation or work for corporate-backed think tanks. More than a dozen of the landing team members are former lobbyists.” [Public Citizen]

OPENGOV WIN:  The final version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act rejected the provision of the Senate bill that that would have created a major new Freedom of Information Act exemption for the Department of Defense. Sunlight stood with our allies in Washington and opposed this absurd proposal in Congress. Today, we celebrate them as we look ahead to the final days of the 114th Congress.


  • Trump’s conflicts of interest continue to mount. According to CNN, he has foreign business interests in at least 25 countries. [CNN]
  • Darren Samuelson broke down the ethics challenges, agency-by-agency. [Politico]
  • For instance, the General Service Administration has an inbound migraine, with respect to the Trump Hotel in DC. [GovExec]
  • As we and Matt Yglesias have pointed out, however, the lack of disclosure by Trump means that we don’t know how many conflicts exist. Accountability in the absence of transparency is impossible. [Vox]
  • To put it another way, we may not know if Trump’s business deals violate the Constitution for years. [ProPublica]
  • His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would face his own conflicts in a Trump presidency. [WSJ]
  • To date, however, the vast majority of Republicans in Congress are not commenting on the conflicts of interest present. [Politico]
  • The transition team is hosting a fundraiser in New York City next week at which $5,000 will give donors an opportunity to break their fast with the President-elect. [WSJ]
  • Separately, the President-elect is offering expensive perks for big donors to the inauguration. [Center for Public Integrity]
  • Trump “is giving influence to banking veterans after denouncing them in his campaign.” [Bloomberg]
  • Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he won’t recuse himself from his wife’s cabinet nomination. [Washington Post]
  • The FBI may have been investigating Trump prior to Election Day when Director Comey disclosed finding additional email on former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop. [Vice]


  • Suzanne J. Piotrowski, deputy dean and associate professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University, published a paper concluding that the Open Government Partnership had “a limited impact on the type of policies that were proposed and enacted” in the second U.S. National Action Plan. [Sage]
  • FOIA Machine, the crowdfunded online platform for submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, is joining MuckRock. FOIA Machine will remain free. [Poynter]
  • Separately, MuckRock is going open source. [MuckRock]
  • The Center for Open Data Enterprise’s action plan gives the Trump administration actionable recommendations for open data. As we noted in October, however, it’s crucial that transparency and accountability aren’t discounted in favor of improved service delivery. [GovTech]
  • “A U.S. District Court Judge has denied the Center for Public Integrity’s request for access to a taxpayer-funded study about cybersecurity vulnerabilities at the Federal Election Commission.” [Public Integrity]
  • Oklahoma Senator James Lankford released a new “Federal Fumbles” report, in the style of former Senator Coburn’s “Wastebook,” listing what he views as wasteful spending. [GovExec]



  • Open contracting is saving Ukraine hundreds of millions of dollars. [Medium]
  • China is moving forward with developing a “social credit system” that will assign each of its citizens a score based upon data about their finances, social interacts, crimes and relationships. [WSJ]
  • Research from two political scientists suggests that “liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline.” [New York Times]
  • Germany’s spy chief warned that Russian hackers are targeting Germany with disinformation that may undermine democratic processes. Sound familiar? (Sure seems like something Congress and the FBI should be looking at harder here in the USA.) [Reuters]


  • The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit will be Dec. 7-9 in Paris, France. Your correspondent will be attending the conference, as I have from the beginning, when the global partnership launched in New York City in 2011. Sunlight’s Steven Larrick will be presenting on “Remix to Reform,” with Greg Jordan-Dettamore. Please send us news and announcements and tune in to #OGPSummit.
  • The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting to “discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration” in DC on Dec. 8. [RSVP]
  • What events will YOU be attending over the next six months? Write to

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