SPJ/LA Receives UCLA Correspondence About Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Visit

Nearly 14 months after tendering its request under the California Public Records Act, SPJ/LA received a total of six emails from UCLA in response to the chapter’s request for all materials relating to a controversial 2018 campus appearance by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin appeared on campus on February 26, 2018 at the invitation of UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations to deliver the Center’s annual lecture, an event open to the public and like prior lectures, recorded for subsequent posting on the Center’s website.

During the Q&A, Mnuchin was heckled by several disruptive students, who were quickly removed from the room to allow the program to proceed. As a result, Mnuchin’s office objected to posting the recording.

UCLA initially complied with Mnuchin’s request, but after an outcry from SPJ/LA and other journalism organizations and political groups, quickly reversed itself and posted the lecture, here. But SPJ/LA and other organizations, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and political supporters of the protesters, independently filed public-records requests concerning Mnuchin’s appearance.

SPJ/LA filed its request on March 7, 2018. After six months of auto-generated email delays, SPJ/LA publicly complained on September 20, 2018 about UCLA’s sluggish response. After another six months of unsigned robo-email delays, on March 28, 2019, SPJ/LA formally complained to the UC Board of Regents about UCLA’s continuing failure to comply with the state public-records law.

Finally, and only after FIRE had already filed a lawsuit against UCLA over the same batch of records, UCLA responded to FIRE’s and SPJ/LA’s request by producing the six emails.

While the brief exchange doesn’t tell the full story, it appears that UCLA thought that Mnuchin’s office had consented in advance to post the recording, was told after the lecture by Mnuchin’s staff that they had not agreed to such an arrangement, and realized the need for more explicit advance agreement in writing to resolve any ambiguity and insure against similar problems recurring in the future. UCLA furnished no information about, or explanation behind, the reversal that ultimately led the university to post the recorded appearance.

The most troubling aspect of SPJ/LA’s year-long ordeal was realizing that the California Public Records Act contains no meaningful enforcement mechanism. Those seeking to utilize its provisions to shine a light on the dark corners of government must depend on “the kindness of strangers”—if not a compliant agency, then perhaps a sympathetic judge—because they are unlikely to find relief anywhere else.

Below please find the email correspondence that UCLA released to SPJ/LA in response to the chapter’s California Public Records Act request:

From: Alexandra Lieben <alieben@international.ucla.edu>
Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 5:45 PM
To: “Tony.Sayegh@treasury.gov” <Tony.Sayegh@treasury.gov>
Cc: “Wrench, Sophia” <swrench@international.ucla.edu>, “Zachary.Isakowitz@treasury.gov“<Zachary.Isakowitz@treasury.gov>
Subject: Feb. 26 – UCLA event

Hi Tony,

It was great talking with you earlier today.

To summarize what we discussed and then confirmed again before we signed off, you are okay with the Burkle Center and Marketplace audiotaping and with the Burkle Center videotaping the event. We will post both podcast and video on our Burkle Center website. Marketplace will use excerpts of the event in their show the following day and, like we do, will post the audio of the entire event on their website. We agreed to shorten the interview with The Generation, our student magazine, from 20 to 15 minutes. We also agreed to shorten Secretary Mnuchin’s introductory remarks from 15 to 5-10 minutes, as well as to shorten the conversation with Kai Ryssdal from 35 to 30 minutes. And we will leave the Q&A with the audience at 25 minutes. Thank you for agreeing to the intern photo at the end of the lecture. That only takes a few minutes and makes them very happy.

As explained, since the dinner at Mr. Burkle’s house will be in his dining room, the best possible place for a meaningful and intimate conversation, the format will be rather informal there as well. It would be wonderful if Secretary Mnuchin, after Burkle Center Kal Raustiala’s welcome, could start the conversation off with about 5 min. of solo remarks. Then Kal will ask one or two questions to get the conversation around the table started. There will be probably about 20 people present.

As you and I discussed, the easiest way for Kai Ryssdal to get a better understanding of what Secretary Mnuchin will cover in his introductory remarks at UCLA, will be for Mr. Ryssdal or his executive producer Nancy Farghalli to speak with you directly. I will e-introduce you to Nancy after this email.

We are truly excited and are very much looking forward to welcoming Secretary Mnuchin to UCLA!

Best,

Alexandra
Alexandra Lieben
Deputy Director
UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations
11353 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095
P: (310) 206-4071
www.burkle.ucla.edu


From: Lieben, Alexandra
To: Raustiala, Kal
Subject: FW: Feb. 26 – UCLA event
Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 6:04:02 PM

Here is the summary of my most recent conversation with Tony Sayegh, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs of the US Department of the Treasury. As you can see, this restates and confirms the agreement with had with them to podcast and videotape the lecture. I sent him this email as record of our conversation and he never objected to any of it. Prior to that, I had conversations about this with Zach Isakowitz and with James Littlefair, both staff members of Secretary Mnuchin’s office.

Alexandra
Alexandra Lieben
Deputy Director
UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations
p: (310)206-4071
f: (310)206-3555
alieben@international.ucla.edu
www.international.ucla.edu/burkle


From: Kal Raustiala <raustiala@law.ucla.edu>
Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 6:06 PM
To: Alexandra Lieben <alieben@international.ucla.edu>
Subject: Re: Feb. 26 – UCLA event

Great. I think in the future with sitting gov officials we probably want them to affirmatively say yes or something to that effect. But this is good.


From: alexandra lieben
Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 6:11 PM
To: Kal Raustiala
Subject: Re: Feb. 26 – UCLA event

His media person said affirmatively yes and I confirmed it in writing. What else would you have wanted me to do?

Alexandra Lieben
Deputy Director
UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations
p: (310)206-4071
f: (310)206-3555
alieben@international.ucla.edu
www.international.ucla.edu/burkle


From: Kal Raustiala <raustiala@law.ucla.edu>
Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 6:14 PM
To: Alexandra Lieben <alieben@international.ucla.edu>
Subject: Re: Feb. 26 – UCLA event

I think this only applies to gov officials, and you didn’t do anything wrong—no one anticipated this– but for Schiff for example we should either ask them “Do we have your permission to video…” OR send them a release to sign. Or otherwise eliminate the opportunity for them to post hoc lie and say, we never agreed to that.


From: Lieben, Alexandra
To: Raustiala, Kal
Subject: Re: Feb. 26 – UCLA event
Date: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 6:16:03 PM

Okay.

Alexandra Lieben
Deputy Director
UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations
p: (310)206-4071
f: (310)206-3555
alieben@international.ucla.edu
www.international.ucla.edu/burkle

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