From The White House To Capitol Hill, Republicans Embrace Secrecy

Reporters sitting in rooms with blacked-out windows. Legislators voting on a bill they haven't seen. Welcome to 2017.

Republicans across Washington have made an unmistakable effort to conduct the business of government in the dark, giving the American public less opportunity to understand and weigh in on crucial issues that could profoundly affect their lives.

On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer took questions from reporters, but news organizations couldn’t broadcast video or audio from the meeting. Reporters were furious over the decision, and on Tuesday, the White House announced Spicer would hold an on-camera briefing.

The White House press office also seems to be saying less and less. During the first 100 days of the Trump administration, officials would meet with reporters about once every two days. But since then, they’ve held briefings once every three days, according to the Washington Post.

White House press briefings have also gotten noticeably shorter, shifting from over an hour to, in at least one case, less than 15 minutes, the Post noted. The White House press office has also banned reporters from some outlets from attending a gaggle.

Trump himself hasn’t given a full news conference since February, and his last sit-down televised interview was with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro in the middle of May. Weeks earlier, Trump abruptly ended an interview with CBS News when he was pressed on camera about his claim that President Barack Obama illegally wiretapped him.

Before Trump took office, there were clear signs of the secrecy he would embrace in the White House. He broke with longstanding tradition and refused to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate. His campaign banned certain outlets ― including HuffPost ― from events. During the presidential transition, his press team struggled to keep the pool of reporters covering him apprised of Trump’s every move, and he left Trump Tower on several occasions even after his team said there would be no more movement for that day.

Secrecy from any White House is alarming. But it is especially notable for Trump, whose extensive career in real estate could expose him to numerous potential conflicts of interest.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he refused to answer questions about whether he advised Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey. Sessions cited Trump’s right to invoke executive privilege to justify his refusal to answer questions, even though Trump hadn’t actually invoked the privilege.

In a departure from the Obama administration, the White House has also declined to release its visitor logs, blocking the public from seeing who is meeting with top government officials. The secrecy has even extended to the smallest details of the presidency, as the White House has declined to release Trump’s weekend golf partners and hasn’t even acknowledged the president is playing. While Trump golfed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February, reporters were stuck in a room with blacked-out windows.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal White House deputy press secretary, told the Washington Post she didn’t think the administration was being secretive and blamed Democrats for making it more difficult to communicate with the American public.

“I disagree, at least from a White House perspective, that things are happening in secrecy,” she said. “One thing to point to is the obstruction by Democrats. There are over 100 nominees for positions in the departments that haven’t been approved, and without a full staff it makes it harder for agencies to communicate and respond to everything they’ve received.”

The lack of transparency has also extended to the Capitol, where Republicans have been negotiating legislation to repeal Obamacare behind closed doors. The process is so secretive that several Republicans have openly admitted they haven’t even seen what’s in the bill. The secrecy comes after contentious negotiations over the legislation in the House and angry constituents confronting legislators at local town halls across the country.

Capitol Hill reporters were also told earlier this month they would no longer be able to film interviews with senators in the hallways on the capitol complex. After an uproar, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chair of the Rules Committee, said there would be no changes to press coverage at the capitol. 

Even Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform but is retiring from Congress, criticized the lack of transparency in an interview over the weekend. Chaffetz was a frequent and outspoken critic of the Obama administration, but things haven’t improved with Trump, he said.

“The reality is, sadly, I don’t see much difference between the Trump administration and the (Barack) Obama administration,” he told Sinclair Broadcast Group.



2017 Scenes From Congress & Capitol Hill