Watchdog Sues Biden Admin Over Funding for Palestinian Government

State Department stonewalling info about U.S. funding for terrorists 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 14, 2021 in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
January 17, 2022

A watchdog group is suing the Biden administration for refusing to turn over internal documents that could show it violated a bipartisan law banning the federal government from sending money to the Palestinian government until it stops using these funds to pay terrorists.

Protect the Public's Trust (PPT), a watchdog group comprised of former government officials, is accusing the State Department of stonewalling its Freedom of Information Act request for all internal documents and communications related to the administration's decision last year to unfreeze U.S. aid to the Palestinian government. Taxpayer funds for the Palestinian Authority were stopped under former president Donald Trump due to that government's ongoing support for terrorism.

The lawsuit, a copy of which was exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, says the State Department sat on PPT's FOIA request for more than 240 days, well past the statutory period in which federal agencies like the State Department must provide the requested information. The State Department says it will not be able to turn over the relevant information until at least Dec. 16.

The information in question could show the Biden administration resumed Palestinian aid in violation of a law known as the Taylor Force Act, a 2018 bipartisan piece of legislation that bars the federal government from providing taxpayer aid to the Palestinian government as long as it continues a policy known as "pay to slay," in which aid dollars are used to pay terrorists and their families. The Palestinian Authority continues to make these payments, generating concerns from lawmakers and watchdog groups like PPT that the Biden administration violated the law.

"The American public deserves transparency around this decision, which may not only be in violation of the law but could potentially result in increased danger for U.S. citizens and their allies," Michael Chamberlain, PPT's director, told the Free Beacon. "But the State Department has yet to even give an estimate for when we will receive records, much less provide any."

The watchdog group filed its FOIA request in May 2021, following several Free Beacon reports disclosing how the Palestinian Authority is funneling international aid dollars to terrorists. The State Department reported to Congress in March 2021 that the Palestinian government spent at least $151 million in 2019 on the pay-to-slay program. Another $191 million was spent on "deceased Palestinians referred to as 'martyrs,'" according to the State Department's assessment.

Though the Biden administration was aware of these payments—as well as failures by the U.S. Agency for International Development to place safeguards on the money—it resumed U.S. aid to the Palestinian government in April 2021.

PPT is requesting a litany of documents related to this decision, including all records, memos, emails, and private communications between the State Department and other federal agencies, including the White House National Security Council, USAID, and the U.S. envoy to the United Nations' office. These records are to include "any meetings to discuss the legality and oversight controls in place as it pertains to the Taylor Force Act, Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018, or other relevant laws or U.S. policies," according to the lawsuit.

The group also wants all internal communications between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, State Department spokesman Ned Price, and other officials involved in the decision to restart aid. These records would provide a window on whether or not the Biden administration knowingly violated the Taylor Force Act or other anti-terrorism laws when it restarted aid to the Palestinians.

"The release of these documents is in the public interest because the public has a right to know whether high-ranking officials charged with formulating foreign policy are properly and wisely considering legal restrictions and policy implications related to providing funds that benefit the Palestinian Authority," the lawsuit states.

Thus far, the State Department "has failed to produce responsive records, provide an estimate for when it will begin to produce responsive records, or even clearly confirm that it has begun searching for responsive records," the lawsuit maintains.

The State Department did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on the lawsuit.