FOIA During the Trump Era | Brigitte Lau

silhouette of statue near trump building at daytime
Photo by Carlos Herrero on

President Donald Trump is a controversial character in the eyes of the media. He is a business man with the perspective that the United States must assess government like a business deal rather than a democracy. New age outlook into the handling of federal issues in the White House could have its benefits, but one aspect of governmental freedom that must be preserved is the freedom of the press and the transparency of government decisions. This concept is disagreeable to the president, as he suggests that a government with too much transparency could hinder the follow through of “good deals.” This concept is rather frightening as lack of transparency in government dealings means a limited press which will produce an uninformed or misinformed public. A lack of information provided to the public will hinder future voter decisions and could suspend a free democracy.

Similarly, Trump is the only president elected into office that has refused to provide his tax returns to the public. The trend of secrecy began before Trump’s entrance into the White House, and his quarrels with journalists have only escalated the more he is catapulted into the spotlight. The president has even gone as far as to request to air his “First 100 Days” commercial on ABC, NBC, and CBS which specifically casts a banner over the faces of well-known news anchors with the words “Fake News” scripted over their faces. The news stations refused to air the commercial during their broadcasts, but the president requesting to air a commercial that accuses popularly viewed media conduits as producing fake news could significantly sway the opinion of the public and even ignite further uproar by Trump supporters, which has become the norm.

Additionally, reporters are facing difficulty unmasking the core of controversy due to a lack of follow through with receipt of documents requested via FOIA requests. Reporter James Shiffer sent in a FOIA request seeking information about the names of people who traveled to Minnesota that was detained due to the executive order on immigration. Shiffer was not the only one requesting information about the repercussions of the executive order with minimal response or production of quality information. The public still lacks important information about the immigration order, especially considering that pouring FOIA requests to a single department could result in response wait time up to 238 days. The more people are becoming independently curious and decide to seek out answers, the longer it will take to produce a FOIA request response.

With the president working to combat journalism and FOIA responses taking longer than patients are willing to wait, what is a society to do? In the foreseeable difficult times ahead, some anticipate drastic measures to excess censorship. As history has told, when government attempts to dramatically interfere with the freedom of citizens, society responds with productive outrage. For example, “Watergate inspired a host of states to pass open records laws.” Similarly, the PATRIOT Act inspired more federal FOIA advocacy groups. As journalists, it is imperative to become educated, expose secrets as they arrive, share FOIA documents with others as everyone has a right to see them and stay strong when dealing with controversy. Additionally, make an effort to appeal denied FOIA requests as appeals are free and the retrieval of information is imperative to the cause.

As the president favors censorship, society must work together to preserve the First Amendment and the right of everyone to retrieve information that is public record. Society is entitled to information provided by FOIA, as a transparent government is essential to a free democracy.











Cuillier, D. (2017). Trump to make foi great again. TRANSPARENCY AND FOI IN THE AGE OF TRUMP. Quill, 105(1), 14-20.


Shiffer, J. (2017, February 12). “FULL DISCLOSURE; Flurry of FOIAs follows travel ban.” Star Tribune [Minneapolis, MN]. 3B. Business Insights: Global. Web.

THR. (2017, May 5). Major TV Networks Reject Trump’s ‘Fake News’ Ad. Retrieved from