Ryn Zinke’s calendar omissions date to first day in office

Ryan Zinke’s very first meeting as interior secretary was never put on his official calendar.

It was a meeting scheduled to last five minutes with Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, on the sidelines of an event with other sportsmen.
Then on his second day in office, Zinke was scheduled to meet with Karl Simich, an apparent reference to the managing director of Sandfire Resources, an Australian mining company that had been trying to develop a copper mine in Central Montana for at least six years. It also wasn’t listed on his calendar.
The meetings are coming to light now only because of internal memos and other notes, released through a Freedom of Information Act request, that reveal these meetings and others that were not noted on his calendar, glaring omissions from what is supposed to be a complete record of the secretary’s activities.
The monthly calendars the Interior Department has released publicly in response to Freedom of Information Act requests have often left off or obscured some meetings. More detailed accounts of Zinke’s time are found in separate briefing memos prepared by his staff, which have not been released with the calendars and were obtained only by filing another FOIA request.
At least six more meetings were omitted from Zinke’s calendar between his first day in office in March 2017 and July of that year, Western Values Project discovered. The findings of the public lands advocacy group, which has been critical of Zinke, were corroborated by .
Chris Saeger, the executive director of the Western Values Project, said Zinke is “keeping the public in the dark about meetings with the same corrupt special interests that brought this administration to power.”
Keeping meetings off official calendars goes against the usual practice of a Cabinet secretary and flies in the face of transparency practices, according to experts who have talked to CNN.
“If I was your boss — and the American people are the bosses — I would love to know what you’re doing with your time,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan advocate for open government. The incomplete release of calendar information “removes the ability of the public to do any oversight,” such as seeing with whom public servants are meeting.
It raises the question, Hempowicz said, “What are you trying to hide?”
The Interior Department declined to comment on specific omissions or redactions from Zinke’s calendar, referring instead to the statement it issued when CNN reported in September on vague language used to describe events on Zinke’s calendar.
“We work to ensure the accuracy of the secretary’s calendar, which is constantly changing, and will continue to be transparent in our scheduling process,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a written statement at the time. “The secretary has one calendar which is submitted to the FOIA office where it goes through standard processing by career officials to ensure full compliance with all laws, rules and regulations. For most meetings, there is a memo which provides more context. These memos are available and regularly released to the public and media via the standard FOIA request.”

 

 

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