Trump’s agency heads are refusing to tell the public who they’re meeting with—or why

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Gage Skidmore / Flickr Scott Pruitt...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

You can chalk it up to simple, bumbling incompetence or you can chalk it up to corruption, but Donald Trump and his Republican minders are very consistently making a hash of our democracy and our notions of government.

A POLITICO review of the practices of 17 Cabinet heads found that at least eight routinely decline to release information on their planned schedules or travels — information that was more widely available during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Four other departments — Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security and Education — provide the secretaries’ schedules only sporadically or with few details. The Treasury Department began releasing weekly schedules for Secretary Steven Mnuchin only in November.

In addition, at least six Cabinet departments don’t release appointment calendars that would show, after the fact, who their leaders had met with, what they discussed and where they traveled — a potential violation of the Freedom of Information Act, which says agencies must make their records “promptly available to any person.” Two departments — Education and the Environmental Protection Agency — have released some of those details after watchdog groups sued them.

There are only two possible reasons for these acts, and they boil down to the same two choices as always. One option is Trump’s top-level Republican nominees are so staggeringly incompetent that they can’t even muster basic record-keeping duties in their posts at the top of our government—and the consistency of these acts across multiple federal agencies seems to be an indicator against that theory. The other is that they are hiding who they are meeting with and which trips they are taking on the taxpayer dime because they believe there is a reason to hide those things.

There is no option three. And this is not Trump doing this; these are the acts of a grand phalanx of Republican elected officials and other longtime movement denizens now ensconced in the government roles they asked the Trump team to be ensconced in. Every one of these conservative diehards would have raised holy hell if a Democratic administration had attempted to block the public from knowing who government agency heads were meeting with or where government agency heads were jetting off to at taxpayer expense, and if such a thing happened every last one of them would have catapulted themselves toward the nearest Fox News camera to declare that something deeply crooked was afoot.

And they would have been right; in past administrations this was not something that anybody could stomach because federal agency heads refusing to divulge even the past records of their own governmental meetings would, indeed, be taken as either invitation to agency corruption or overt evidence of it.

In an administration in which the Republican president himself is earning cash from everything from foreign lobbyists booking his hotels to the Secret Service’s own duties securing his commercial clubs, during his presence, however, it’s further evidence of the Republican descent into grift as governing ideology. There’s no way longtime politicos like Scott Pruitt don’t know federal transparency rules; if they’re hiding that information, it’s because they specifically demanded it be hidden.

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