About Rhett Wilkinson

Rhett's work has been seen in USA TODAY, ESPN & the Pew Forum. At nine years old, he wrote stories about a child of Han Solo and Princess Leia named Ben Solo, so he's waiting for Disney to pay up. Reach him at rhett.wilkinson@yahoo.com.

Department of Justice Puts Off Responding to FOIA Requests of the Mueller Investigation Report, Claiming Law is Behind Them (link to document)

In this letter, the U.S. Department of Justice says they are delaying responding to Freedom of Information Act requests of the report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.


The United States Department of Justice has delayed responding to Freedom of Information Act requests of the report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The DoJ appears to have done this as allowed by federal law on public information.

“We will need to extend the time limit to respond to your request beyond the 10 additional days provided by the statute,” reads a DoJ letter signed by DoJ Chief of Initial Request Staff Douglas Hibbard and addressed to me. A subsection of the law says that “if agency (dealing with a FOIA request) has determined that unusual circumstances apply … a failure … is excused for an additional 10 days.”

The request, reads the letter, fits the criteria of “unusual circumstances” as defined in another subsection of the law, 5 U.S.C. 552, which was assessed by me as it applies to the letter. Those circumstances, the DoJ says, are that the request “requires a search in another office, consultations with other department components or another agency, and/or involves a voluminous amount of material.”

The report was the result of an investigation led by Mueller that concerned Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and if U.S. President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice. The “basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society,” according to the same DoJ.

The Mueller report is reportedly nearly 400 pages.

The DoJ is “processing other requests seeking records similar to those you have requested,” the DoJ wrote in the letter.

The letter appears to be a form letter sent to at least one other media outlet, the San Francisco Public Press.

“At this time we have assigned your request to the complex track,” the letter reads. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall … provide to each person making a request the tracking number assigned to the request.”

“We use multiple tracks to process requests,” the letter reads. “The time needed to complete our work on your request will necessarily depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of our records search, the volume and complexity of any material located, and the order of receipt of your request.”

I sent the request on March 25 and got its letter April 2. Press Senior Editor Michael Winter sent his request on March 22, he wrote, and got his letter April 4.

Regarding a possible cost of the report, “Any decision with regard to the application of fees will be made only after we determine whether fees will be implicated for this request,” the letter read.

The DoJ is led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who provided a four-page letter summary of the report on March 24 to congressional committee leaders.

Along with mine and the Press’, the DOJ has granted processing of other requests “on an expedited basis.” The DOJ is granting the expedition at least for me and the Press’ because of the other requests for “similar” documents, the letter read. A subsection of the law says that “each agency (dealing with a FOIA request) shall promulgate regulations … providing for expedited processing of requests for records.”

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I got carpal tunnel since I did that much speak-truth-to-power journalism

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I had to wear the brace pictured because I got carpal tunnel, as the doctor said, in an effort to do speak-truth-to-power journalism (samples below).

Also, I did that work mostly for free.

Then, I had to leave my apartment early.

I am not asking even for a livable wage, but just a stipend (link: https://www.gofundme.com/keep-on-with-truth-to-power-stipend).

Hopefully, this is a reasonable request because I am not simply asking for money, but for even recompense for hundreds of hours of research, interviews, writing and past-midnight (and overnight) labor.

Thank you,

Rhett

Stories that won awards for last year:
What do town halls in the wake of Trump say about Utah politicians?”: I attended many functions throughout Utah that were held shortly after the election, besides researching for the most-appropriate links.
Heard of a ‘dry Mormon?’ Turns out, there are quite a few dry Mormon … transhumanists: I held a conference call with the board of the organization and traveled to attend their meetings.


The Inquisitr profile: Includes stories on the rise of Democratic candidates in Utah, a breaking report of the Mormon church ending its home teaching program and aggregates of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump.
portfolio: Includes descriptions and links to nine stories that got awards from the Society of Professional Journalists or Religion Newswriters Association.
Daily Herald profile: Includes a report of the county attorney’s decision on rape by a Mormon leader and another about a case about a filmed assisted suicide which hearing was covered by CBS.

I worked on a film that showed in every theater in the largest movie chain in Utah

Image result for before your time movie

“Before Your Time” played in every Megaplex theater in Utah.

Megaplex Theatres is the largest movie theater chain in the state.

I am grateful to have been involved in its creation, as a screenwriter, production assistant, grip and extra, and in media outreach.

  •  After the loss of their mother, 17-year-old Dylan, his two sisters, and father are forced to move back to the small town where their parents met and grew up. While getting back on their feet, the family stays with their eccentric Aunt Norah and tries to adjust to a new life. They meet a quirky neighborhood kid, Pete, who convinces them to embark on a bucket list-type adventure inspired by a list found in their Dad’s high school storage boxes. The task is not as easy as it seems and ultimately teaches everyone about managing grief, moving forward, and the importance of family.
  •  Production assistant for several scenes
  •  Helped with setup many times, including during a storm
  •  Was a grip until nearly midnight
  •  Got three news stories placed
  •  Internal communication to actors to ensure their attendance for scenes

Here’s my IMDb profile.

‘Gov. Herbert has created his own rock and hard place’ (in USA TODAY)

I wrote the following op-ed and it was picked up by USA TODAY:

USA TODAY

Gov. Gary Herbert used the term “let us reason together” when suggesting that the outdoor retailer shows were in the wrong in leaving over Herbert and Utah politicians’ land grab efforts.

One must wonder if he realized that Utahns might find it reasonable for the shows to leave given that the land grab efforts, in one case, would have cost $14 million (a lawsuit); in another, was not considerate enough of tribal concerns (the Public Lands Initiative); and in a third, were trying to undo something that had already been done (a resolution to President Trump — from a different level of government — to rescind former President Obama’s Bears Ears designation) when that act of undoing (reversing national monument designations) has never even been done before.

Or at the least, Herbert realized that Utahns would frown on a major economic driver leaving town, one that brought 40,000 visitors and $45 million to the state each year.

The cards against him, Herbert did what tyrants have done: Deploy religious rhetoric to manipulate deep convictions for political gain. “Let us reason together” comes from Isaiah 1 of the Judeo-Christian world and a form of that phrase is found in Mormon scripture (D&C 50). Surely, he must have known that even if Utahns generally weren’t going to absolutely hammer him, the highest-profile and most influential of business leaders would.

This must certainly include Scott Anderson, the Zions Bank CEO, so powerful in Utah that he may as well be another powerful politician. But Anderson is also a devout Latter-day Saint — those close to him have said that he will leave his Zions post only after he is assigned as an LDS mission president. Anderson runs a bank that has had church association.

Gary Herbert trying to manipulate the Scott Andersons. Boy. I’d say that’s sad for Herbert, except in his policy approach and communications on this affair, he created his own rock and hard place.

Rhett Wilkinson lives in Centerville. He was a staffer on Herbert’s 2012 re-election campaign and interned in the governor’s communications office.

I heard them on NPR. Then I realized: I’d interviewed all of them myself.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CeKFELjWwAEByzK.jpg

This guy, a top business executive in America, joined a U.S. senator and former CIA director as stakeholders I have interviewed in the past and now have enjoyed attention on National Public Radio or an affiliate. (Traeger Grills)

A whole lot has been written about Jeremy Andrus since the turn of the calendar year, what with his success leading Traeger Grills after building Skullcandy. (Read: for example, he was named the Utah Business CEO of the Year after being featured in Forbes.)

I’ll humbly say that I was one of the first to report on his leadership of the innovative grill company, when its global headquarters were established in one of the cities that I covered as a reporter for a Salt Lake City-based newspaper.

That was just the beginning in terms of folks I have interviewed who have recently rode the biggest airwaves.

Andrus was referenced last week in a story by the National Public Radio affiliate of Salt Lake. I also enjoyed hearing on NPR last week from Leon Panetta and Steve Daines. Panetta is the former is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Daines is a U.S. senator. It was awesome for me to realize that I had interviewed all three just more than a year apart in my journalism career.

I would share the Panetta and Daines stories, but they are archived only in print. But here’s the digital Andrus story:

Company led by former Skullcandy CEO moves global headquarters to Sugar House

By Rhett Wilkinson

Traeger Pellet Grills is about creativity. So is Sugar House.

But the commonality is merely one reason why the counter-culture city is a “great place” for the innovative grill company to relocate its global headquarters, a Treager executive said.

“Traeger is an outdoor cooking brand, and outdoor cooking, by nature, is about creativity and in particular, the outdoors,” Vice President of Marketing Sean Laughlin said. “We felt that Sugar House is a great place for us to be located based upon the diversity, the creativity, and the value placed in outdoor spaces that this neighborhood provides.”

The company made the move from Portland this week into a 28,000-square foot location in the 1215 Wilmington Building, where more than 100 employees will be based, according to a press release.

The decision-maker was Jeremy Andrus, Traeger CEO and former top man at Skullcandy.

“We’re thrilled to be relocating our company’s global headquarters from Oregon to the great state of Utah,” Andrus said. “We’re looking forward to building another great brand right here at home and to being a contributing member of the community. We’ve been hard at work building a new, unique office in Sugar House that will reflect the DNA of our brand and inspire our team and our customers alike. The design concept connects people to our product with elements of reclaimed wood from both of our homes – Oregon and now Utah – fire, steel, and sophisticated electronics.”

Read more at ValleyJournals.com.

Pontifications at Utah’s independent newspaper

city-weekly

I’m admittedly proud to have been featured in the Staff Box for City Weekly, Utah’s independent newspaper, for seven straight weeks. Staff Box usually features commentary on contemporary issues!

Links to other staff comments and companion articles are below:

“What are your plans for January 20?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/trumps-words/Content?oid=3583149

“If you got invited to sing at Trump’s inauguration, which song would you perform?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/singin-in-the-rain/Content?oid=3579930

“What’s the worst thing that could happen if Utah legalized marijuana?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/gone-to-pot/Content?oid=3572461

“What is your New Year’s wish for our country?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/voting-in-the-past-election/Content?oid=3566787

“Let’s flip the switch. What would you gift Santa Claus?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/odds-and-ends/Content?oid=3561173

“Who would you award a Nobel Prize to and for what?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/ignoble/Content?oid=3553987

“What would you give President-elect Donald Trump for Christmas?” http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/im-dreaming-of-a-white-supremacist-christmas/Content?oid=3548801

This woman was one of many sexually assaulted at BYU. Now she’s a student at rival Utah — and rooted against the Cougars

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Madeline MacDonald now attends the University of Utah and rooted against her former school, BYU, after the Mormon church-owned school pointed fingers at her after she was sexually assaulted. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Editor’s note: this story was written in advance of the 2016 Utah-BYU football game.
Madeline MacDonald attended Brigham Young University.
Then, she was sexually assaulted at the school.
Now, she goes to the University of Utah.
So she’ll be wearing red this Saturday, as the Utes and Cougars clash in football in Salt Lake City.
So will her family. It is a rather big change for them considering that her mom sang the Cougar fight song to MacDonald in their Seattle home, to wake her for school.
“You know that part where they sang ‘rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah — gggoooo… Cougars!?” Madeline asked. “She sang that while rubbing my shoulders.”
The sexual assault revelations from BYU since the spring may be just one reason why this year’s version of the rivalry is the biggest BYU-Utah game in some time. This matchup is the rivalry’s biggest since the Utes showed that they could compete against the Cougars in 1993, according to Jorge Iber, a history professor at Texas Tech University who specializes in United States sports. That year marked when a 55-yard field goal from Chris Yergensen at game’s end concluded a stretch in which Utah, in 21 prior consecutive contests, had lost 19 times. (In the next 21, it won 15.)
 
A conversion
At first, MacDonald thought that the rapists and BYU’s honor code were merely bad apples in the Mormon church-owned school. Then she learned the issues went to the top – even to president Kevin Worthen, who knew about sexual assaults at his school for years but kept quiet about it, she said.
“I didn’t even make it a year before I was sexually assaulted,” she said. “And I thought I was getting this special unique thing (in attending BYU). It was worth going to the school with a program that wasn’t the best for my major or going into a desert – I don’t like deserts – and then I learned like it was anything else.”
MacDonald is especially disgusted that, in her mind, BYU put football over people. Over women, since potential lost funding for BYU over a violation of Title IX rules could inversely affect its athletic programs, including football; over the LGBTQIA community, because of the Big 12’s possible concern about an LGBTQIA non-discrimination policy. BYU does not have one and it may keep them from being invited to the Big 12, one of a handful of titanic football leagues in American known as the Power 5.
“They want the publicity (through football) so that everyone can become Mormons,” MacDonald said. “It was shocking to me… there was no deeper morals. It came to protecting the public image.”
The Washington native transferred to the U. largely because she wanted to stay in the state, where she has a strong support group. She applied late, but the admissions office made special exceptions for her. They almost hung up the phone but pulled an end-around, she said, after she told them her story. Many personnel have helped her with getting as many resources as possible, a major difference from at BYU.
“There, they said ‘wait, wait. We are going to investigate you,” she said. “(At the U.), even people I didn’t know sought where they could help and have really gone the extra mile to see that I’m comfortable at the U., and that’s been really special.”
MacDonald feels bad that the student-athletes in Provo, including Taysom Hill, the starting quarterback who has fought back from repeated serious injuries, must represent a school so problematic.
“It’s funny – it feels so strange to be seeing all of these things on Facebook and not have it be my team anymore,” she said a month after being admitted to the U. “Who cared about the Utes?”