The Trump presidency has thus far been defined by an uncanny sort of double-consciousness. For all the surface-level visibility claimed by the president, who spent a full third of his first year in office padding from the golf course to the television set in Trump-owned properties, there exists a huge void when it comes to the policy-makers and administrators tasked with reassembling the federal government.
As pointed out on Tuesday in a new Politico feature, we largely don’t know what these people are up to because they’re up to shady stuff. Trump’s Cabinet agencies employ widely disparate strategies when it comes to releasing information regarding scheduling, upcoming trips, and planned meetings with associates. For the most part, the inner workings of the most senior offices in the nation remain largely a mystery, which in some circumstances brushes up against violating the Freedom of Information Act.
This year, the watchdog organization American Oversight sued to get access to the calendars of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. As Politico reported:
Criticisms that some agency heads are concealing meetings with businesses they’re supposed to regulate have been leveled especially often against Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has made it his explicit mission to ease regulatory burdens on industries including oil, gas, coal, auto manufacturing and agriculture.
Pruitt meets frequently with leaders of these and other industries, based on the three months of detailed calendar records that American Oversight managed to pry out of EPA under a court order. But the agency makes it difficult to track his activities in real time — refusing to provide schedules or advisories of his upcoming meetings, confirm his attendance at specific events, or say what city he plans to be in on a given day.
Before resigning, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price would tweet evidence of his daily routine only after having attended certain previously unlisted events, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke attended fundraisers in Alaska, Montana, and the Caribbean that appeared nowhere on the calendars released by his department, which are now under investigation by government watchdogs.
Zinke’s wife, Lola, tweeted a photo of the pair mid-kiss in Turkey in August; this trip was also unannounced and unaccounted for on publically available schedules.
Departments in previous administrations have certainly been withholding to a degree, but the Trump presidency promotes a superficial bluster and uniform lack of transparency that the press, watchdog groups, and previous Cabinet members find alarming.
Christine Todd Whitman led the EPA during the George W. Bush presidency, and always made a point to release her schedule ahead of time; she’s critical of the extremely secrecy adopted by the Trump administration. “It all leads to an atmosphere of distrust, even if you’re doing absolutely nothing wrong,” she told the site.