According to a report from Politico, the White House carefully described Donald Trump's plans to meet with CEO's over the COVID-19 health crisis in such a way that will allow him to keep his conversations with business leaders private, thereby skirting transparency laws.
As Politico's Josh Gerstein writes, "President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the initiative with much fanfare, rattling off the names of more than 200 business leaders that he said would be part of the 'Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.' He then dove into the outreach campaign Wednesday, holding four conference calls with different segments of the massive group and compiling thoughts on how to restart the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic."
However, what those conversations entailed may never be known if the White House has its way.
"By contending that the 200-plus business leaders it is talking to are not developing any consensus recommendations — just offering their opinions — the effort might not have to comply with a core transparency statute, the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The law requires formal outside advisory committees to hold open meetings and issue public reports. Notably, the White House also avoided the term 'committee' in its announcement," Gerstein explained before adding, "Ultimately, the loose effort, cobbled haphazardly with little notice to the participants, may amount to little more than a glorified CEO suggestion box."
According to government transparency advocates, this is not the first time Trump's White House has worked around the laws out in place by Congress.
"Back in 2017, officials used a similar approach for two of its high-profile attempts to consult business leaders — a Strategic and Policy Forum and a Manufacturing Jobs Initiative," the report states. "In both cases, White House officials insisted that the much-touted assemblages were not actually deliberating or voting on any proposals and therefore did not have to comply with requirements to announce meetings in advance and to conduct them in public. Administration lawyers also insisted on names that seemed to dodge the words 'council' or 'committee.'"
According to a White House statement in 2017, “No consensus advice or recommendations resulting from group deliberations or interaction is expected or will be solicited."
What could be concerning to the president is the possibility of leaks -- long a problem for Trump's White House.
"The 220-person size of the council does contribute to a degree of informal transparency, making it a bit hard for the White House to prevent members of the groups from sharing accounts of what they told the president, or vice versa," Gerstein wrote. "Press reports Wednesday said some business leaders warned Trump against a rapid reopening before widespread testing in place and said moving forward without that safeguard would be reckless."
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