WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 03: (AFP OUT) US President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (R) looks...
Pool

Why the secrecy surrounding Trump’s cabinet matters

Updated

I can appreciate why the phrase “cabinet members’ schedules” isn’t likely to generate much attention. Most of the public probably doesn’t know who’s in Donald Trump’s cabinet, so their schedules aren’t exactly click bait.

But Politico published an interesting and well reported piece yesterday that’s worth your time anyway.

The Cabinet members carrying out President Donald Trump’s orders to shake up the federal government are doing so under an unusual layer of secrecy – often shielding their schedules from public view, keeping their travels under wraps and refusing to identify the people and groups they’re meeting.

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.

Some of the secrecy is even retrospective. Not only does much of Trump’s cabinet keep future meetings under wraps, Politico also found that 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.”

In some cases, this may not even be entirely legal, since the Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to make their records “promptly available to any person.”

The article went on to note the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to release some scheduling details “after watchdog groups sued them,”

Remember, this isn’t business as usual in D.C.; it’s quite a bit worse. We’re witnessing secrecy far beyond the norm, even hiding information about officials’ meetings that have already happened.

The question, of course, is why the Trump administration doesn’t want the public to know where cabinet officials are or with whom they’re meeting.

Austin Evers, a former Obama State Department lawyer who heads the watchdog group American Oversight, told Politico, “How officials spend their time is the best window into what their priorities are. When public officials resist public disclosure of what they do, people should be skeptical of what they’re trying to hide.”

Quite right. The Trump administration hasn’t yet been around for a year, but it’s existed long enough to establish a pattern: when these folks act like they have something to hide, there’s usually a reason.