The only news that tends to surface from President Donald Trump’s cabinet is when one of them battles with the president, says something absurd or when one if them is plagued with scandal. Other than that, members have largely hidden behind the skirt of their boss.
A Tuesday Politico report, however, detailed the ways in which Trump’s cabinet is secretly carrying out a far-right agenda without the scrutiny that comes from the public’s awareness.
Of the 17 Cabinet officials, seven refuse to release any public information on their schedules or travel. For some, the only way to discover the public activities is through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests through their office. Three additional departments including Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security and Education give only the schedules of the secretaries, but with limited details. Treasury Secretary Steve Munchin’s schedules became public less than a month ago.
Seven Cabinet secretaries are also refusing to release meetings they’ve had, who they met with and any travel, which Politico revealed was a possible violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The law requires agencies to make records “promptly available to any person.” The Education Department and Environmental Protection Agency released only a few details and only after they were sued.
“How officials spend their time is the best window into what their priorities are,” said former Obama State Department lawyer Austin Evers. He now leads American Oversight, a watchdog group that sued to obtain the schedule of of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “When public officials resist public disclosure of what they do, people should be skeptical of what they’re trying to hide.”
Once Evers obtained Pruitt’s information, it revealed the secretary was holding meetings with heads of the industries he was supposed to be regulating. The EPA wouldn’t release any information about whether Pruitt was speaking at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Nashville. Yet, the program for the event announced Pruitt as a speaker.
The @ALEC_states conference brochure names @EPAScottPruitt as speaking at its Friday lunch in Nashville, as ALEC members debate a resolution attacking #climate science and another criminalizing pipeline protesters pic.twitter.com/dAN6ULF6EU
— Nick Surgey (@NickSurgey) December 5, 2017
Pruitt “uses the word transparency a lot,” said Clean Air Task Force legal director Ann Weeks. “To whom is the transparency being offered? Because it’s not the American people because we’re not able even to see who he’s talking to.”
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman alleged that the department has complied with all legal requirements but that those searching for public information are doing nothing more than trying to “score political points.”
“The fact is that the current EPA is the most transparent EPA has been in years,” Bowman said.
One of the Cabinet secretaries to have been attacked for his schedule is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who’s been caught using private jets and military planes to travel in style. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign for doing exactly the same thing.
In August, Zinke’s wife tweeted a photo of the two relaxing on a boat in what she said was the Bosporus.
— Lola Zinke (@LolaZinke) August 17, 2017
His office wouldn’t say whether or not the trip was a vacation or official purposes or who flew him to Turkey. Office staff has lamented that they’re sick of coordinating the personal travel of Zinke’s wife, however. FOIA requests caught him spending thousands to take helicopters to events near Washington, D.C., one of which was to go horseback riding with Vice President Mike Pence. He was also caught using taxpayer dollars to zip around the Caribbean.
Zinke has also been scrutinized for possible violations to the Hatch Act by using federal funds to help him do political campaigning. His controversial travel has even prompted MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to bet Zinke will be the next secretary to be voted off the island.
The act is curious given Trump’s criticism of former President Barack Obama that were based on debunked right-wing conspiracy theories.
Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2012
Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President–ever–and he ran on transparency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2012
When asked about it, the White House deputy press secretary said that they don’t handle schedules for members of the Cabinet so it isn’t their problem.
“The White House expects federal agencies to comply with FOIA requests,” Hogan Gidley said in a statement. However, according to Politico, the agencies seem to be doing the opposite.