Way back in October of 2018, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Department of State concerning an April 2017 meeting at the US embassy in Chile between Ivan Arriagada, CEO of Antofagasta plc, and Carol Z. Perez, who was then US ambassador to Chile. About a month later, I followed up with a second request for embassy communications regarding Trump’s nomination of Andrew Gellert to be ambassador to Chile.
These documents could help highlight the use of the US embassy in Santiago as a business backchannel for Antofagasta’s Twin Metals project in northeastern Minnesota, and perhaps shed some light on the Trump administration’s (botched) effort to appoint a close Kushner family business associate to be Perez’s successor. With Kushner’s $2 billion deal with the Saudis and the financing of the 666 Fifth Avenue deal under scrutiny, these records might also shed some light on the grey area where Kushner operated, mixing financial and other emoluments with Trump administration policy.
Over four years later, those FOIA requests are still outstanding. After a long delay, several blown deadlines, a denial of my request for expedited processing, then a denial of my appeal of that decision, the Department of State now tells me that I should expect a response to the October 2018 request by November 20, 2023. The November 2018 request is now expected to be completed by May 31, 2024. State complains of a FOIA backlog and setbacks due to the COIVD-19 pandemic, but it’s hard to square those complaints with any reasonable interpretation of the FOIA statute, which stipulates that records will be made “promptly available.” And, of course, these soft deadlines are likely to change again.
A lot has changed in the years since I made these two requests, and with the Republicans now taking the gavel in the House, a lot more changes are coming. The Biden administration restored the status quo ante when it issued a legal opinion saying that Antofagasta’s mineral leases near the Boundary Waters had been improperly renewed; the Forest Service completed the withdrawal study that Sonny Perdue, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, abruptly canceled due to political pressure; and the Bureau of Land Management proceeded with the Rainy River Withdrawal.
As Antofagasta and its Twin Metals subsidiary contest these actions in a yet another lawsuit against the federal government, the mining company has stepped up lobbying efforts.
Republicans now say the administration’s actions leave the US vulnerable and over-reliant on supply chains controlled by China. They say the Twin Metals project and other sulfide mining projects in the Lake Superior region will provide American jobs and help prevent human rights abuses abroad.
It’s clear the Twin Metals project will remain a national political flash point in the 118th Congress and in the 2024 election. But so much has changed over the past few years that it’s hard to say whether the records I’m asking for will be of anything more than limited historical interest. What might they contribute to the larger story I am trying to bring into focus, or the current public debate?
That’s weighing on my decision whether to write another complaint, pay the $400 filing fee, and try to force the State Department’s hand. Any case filed in US District Court now would probably take at least until summer or fall to produce responsive records, at which point the State Department promises, sort of, to have its act together. Or they could just put me off again.