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.
Figuring out the finances of wealthy appointees like Wilbur Ross is complicated, and the ethics system wasn’t designed with the uberrich in mind. Here’s a picture of the whiteboard @weareoversight set up to try to figure out a piece of Ross’ holdings. https://t.co/aDJR9P130f pic.twitter.com/SMFdiIKSrn
— Carrie Levine (@levinecarrie) February 27, 2019
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: