News Roundup: What We Can Learn from Trump Administration Calendars

Cabinet officials’ schedules can tell the public a lot about the administration’s priorities and its practices. American Oversight has pored through thousands of pages of official calendars, uncovering questionable meetings with lobbyists and outside groups, and identifying new points of investigation.

Department of Health and Human Services: We obtained the calendars of HHS Secretary Alex Azar and of Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, who served as acting secretary in late 2017 and early 2018. The calendars show multiple meetings with anti–abortion rights groups and other conservative organizations opposed to the Affordable Care Act. With the administration’s recently issued new rule restricting groups that provide abortions or abortion referrals from receiving federal family planning funds, we’ve been investigating the role these outside groups may have played in shaping policy.

Department of Education: In February, Politico reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos attended a “fireside chat” at the Club for Growth Foundation’s winter retreat, which was closed to the press. The Club for Growth supported DeVos’ confirmation in 2017, and on its website says that it aims to “close down the U.S. Department of Education and end the federal government’s role in education.” American Oversight has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for records that show whether the Club for Growth is influencing federal education policy.

Department of Commerce: American Oversight also obtained Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ 2017 calendars, which reveal multiple meetings that present potential conflicts of interest with his vast and complex web of financial holdings. This week, NPR and the Center for Public Integrity co-published a story on the difficulty of investigating the finances of a billionaire cabinet secretary. The story features a photo of the whiteboard we have been using to piece together just one part of his network of holdings.

On Friday, American Oversight filed a new lawsuit for records of Ross’ meetings with industry officials, including those from Chevron and Boeing, as well as communications Commerce officials may have had with entities listed on Ross’ ethics agreements.

Department of Labor: And finally, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s 2017 calendars, which we obtained, show repeated engagement on immigration issues. Acosta met with White House officials like Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and former adviser Steve Bannon, as well as with then–Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and with Customs and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna. American Oversight is asking for records from these meetings to determine the nature of the Labor Department’s involvement in the administration’s immigration policy.

As Donald Trump made his trip to Hanoi and as former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen visited the House Oversight Committee, here’s what else we’ve been up to this week:

  • Last year, American Oversight began investigating reports of the administration’s retaliation against career employees perceived to be not sufficiently loyal to the president. Mari Stull, a former lobbyist and wine blogger who recently left her post as a State Department political appointee, had allegedly been reviewing employees’ social media for evidence of disloyalty. We requested records of her communications with the White House, eventually taking the State Department to court to force the release of records that could contain evidence of Stull’s retaliation efforts. In a court proceeding today, the department said that it has potentially found more than 500 records related to such communications. This estimate doesn’t include email attachments, and the department is conducting further searches for more records. Stay tuned.
  • In September 2018, Brock Long, then the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was found to have used more than $150,000 in government resources, including FEMA employees and government vehicles, for unauthorized transportation to work. Long and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a join statement that Long would reimburse the federal government, with Long saying that he would “accept full responsibility for any mistakes that were made by me or the agency.” Long announced his resignation last month, and American Oversight has submitted FOIA requests to DHS and the Treasury to find out whether Long fulfilled his promise.
  • During the exceptionally cold stretch of days in late January, the federal Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center experienced a prolonged power outage, resulting in a dangerous lack of heat for inmates. Problems in providing adequate heat reportedly began weeks before the crisis made news, and American Oversight is seeking records to determine what action the Department of Justice took to remedy the inhumane conditions at the detention center. 
  • A few weeks ago, American Oversight submitted FOIA requests for communications between officials and employees or representatives of Ballard Partners, the lobbying firm helmed by top Trump campaign fundraiser Brian Ballard. Lobbying disclosure forms indicate that Ballard Partners has been lobbying the Department of Homeland Security, but this week DHS responded to our FOIA request by saying it had no records of Ballard communications with political appointees. 
  • Michael Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, offering testimony highly critical of the president, whom Cohen said was “racist,” a “con man,” and a “cheat.” Rep. Mark Meadows brought in HUD official Lynne Patton, who is black, to stand next to him as evidence that the charge of racism was unfounded, a stunt that was highly criticized. But for the most part, Republicans focused little on the president, primarily attempting to discredit Cohen based on his conviction for previously lying to Congress. American Oversight’s Molly Claflin breaks down a list other members of Trump’s circle who could be in danger if prosecutors continue to signal an interest in prosecuting people for lying to Congress — including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Jeff Sessions.

Related Blog Posts

May 17, 2019

News Roundup: Investigating State-Level Threats to Democracy

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida, Georgia, Texas
News
May 14, 2019

Top VA Officials Used Personal Email to Communicate with Mar-a-Lago Members

Department of Veterans Affairs
Investigation Update
May 10, 2019

News Roundup: Casinos and Questions

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
News
May 6, 2019

Lawsuits Seek Information on Whether Casino Magnates Have Cashed In on Relationships to Trump Administration

Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury
Investigation Update
May 3, 2019

News Roundup: Above the Law

Congress, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
News
May 3, 2019

New Evidence of Emoluments Violations Prompts American Oversight Lawsuit

Department of Justice, Department of State
Investigation Update
April 10, 2019

Department of Education Resumes Reveal Pro-Charter School Bias

Department of Education
Investigation Update
April 1, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks Evidence of Outside Influence on Judicial Nominations

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
March 27, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Records of Casino Industry Lobbying Efforts

Department of Justice
Investigation Update
March 25, 2019

The Corruption Continues: Mueller Has Finished His Work. American Oversight Has Not.

News
March 22, 2019

News Roundup: Same Old Stories

News
March 19, 2019

Is DHS Failing to Search for Records — Or Is Washington’s Most Influential Lobbying Firm Inflating Its Reports?

Department of Homeland Security
News
March 13, 2019

Two Years of American Oversight

News
March 12, 2019

Investigating the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, International Trade Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
News
March 7, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks Records of Agribusiness Influence on USDA School Nutrition Standards

Department of Agriculture
Investigation Update
March 6, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks Records of Boeing Influence at the Pentagon

Department of Defense
News
March 4, 2019

Documents Reveal Ben Carson Jr.’s Attempts to Use His Influence at HUD to Help His Business

Baltimore City Housing and Community Development, Baltimore Mayor's Office, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Investigation Update
February 28, 2019

At Least Fourteen Federal Agencies Have Created No Guidance for Spending Taxpayer Money at Trump Properties

Investigation Update
February 28, 2019

The Complicated World of Wilbur Ross’ Finances

Department of Commerce
News
February 19, 2019

New Lawsuit Seeks Records of Communications Between the State Department, Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity

Investigation Update
February 12, 2019

HUD Senior Official Lynne Patton Thinks American Oversight Needs to Get a Life

Department of Housing and Urban Development
News
January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
News
December 27, 2018

Countdown to Oversight in 2019

News
December 10, 2018

Wait, There’s More: News of Another Administration Official Using Personal Email

Environmental Protection Agency
News
September 12, 2018

Back to School Changes with Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education

Department of Education
Investigation Update
May 7, 2018

What’s Going on at Education? Teacher Strikes, School Discipline Policies and For-Profit Influence

Department of Education
Investigation Update
March 9, 2018

American Oversight Sues HHS and CMS for Verma Ethics Records

Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services
News
February 9, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks DHS Border Wall Emails with White House, Fox News, Border States

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
November 3, 2017

American Oversight Launches ‘NAFTA Watch’

Department of Commerce, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Investigation Update
October 27, 2017

Unexcused Absences: DeVos Calendars Show Frequent Days Off

Department of Education
Investigation Update
October 10, 2017

New Lawsuit Seeks Answers about Ben Carson’s Management of HUD

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Investigation Update
October 6, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Investigation of Manhattan DA Vance’s Failure to Investigate Fraud at Trump SoHo Development

News
August 30, 2017

Watchdog Groups Launch Joint Investigation into EPA Oversight of Toxic Substances Control Act

Investigation Update
August 18, 2017

Resume Shows Trump Appointee Falsified Credentials

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Investigation Update
July 26, 2017

American Oversight Sues FCC to Obtain Net Neutrality Communications with Industry Groups

Federal Communications Commission
Investigation Update
June 27, 2017

American Oversight Sues EPA to Release Pruitt’s Calendars and Communications with Carl Icahn

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
June 22, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Challenge EPA Over Failure to Release Pesticide Records

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 26, 2017

American Oversight Seeks Release of FCC Net Neutrality Communications

Federal Communications Commission
Investigation Update
April 14, 2017

Statement on White House Decision to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

White House
News
April 14, 2017

Broad Coalition of Transparency Advocates Call for White House to Release Visitor Logs

White House
News
April 12, 2017

American Oversight and Environmental Working Group Demand Release of Pruitt Communications with Pesticide Industry

Environmental Protection Agency
Investigation Update
April 4, 2017

10 Questions about the Border Wall that Deserve Big, Beautiful Answers

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior
Investigation Update
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
Investigation Update
March 23, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Secret Health Care Negotiations

Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Investigation Update