Interior Secretary Zinke kept some meetings off public calendar

On May 16, 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican who was the first i...

Posted: Jul 20, 2018 1:51 PM
Updated: Jul 20, 2018 1:51 PM

On May 16, 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican who was the first in Congress to endorse Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, according to Zinke's official calendar.

But Zinke's calendar doesn't show who else was in the room -- three representatives from a company that does business with the National Park Service.

The meeting is one of about a dozen instances uncovered by CNN of Zinke's calendar omitting or obscuring important details, leaving the public in the dark about who is meeting with Zinke, one of Trump's most trusted cabinet officials with a consequential-portfolio.

The situation is compounded because the Interior Department hasn't distributed Zinke's upcoming schedule in nearly a year. It only releases his calendar when a Freedom of Information Act request is made. About a year's worth of his schedule has been released, yet those calendars are not a complete record of the secretary's activities. And even the calendars that have been released due to public records requests are currently five months old.

Zinke met with three executives of Delaware North, a contractor that runs hotels, restaurants and shops in several national parks, including in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Delaware North also runs a hotel in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Montana, located about 20 minutes outside of Glacier National Park.

A briefing memo for the secretary painted a picture of the meeting as focused not on Collins, but Delaware North. "This is just an overview from Delaware North regarding how NPS works with concessionaires," reads the memo, released through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The only mention in the memo of Collins -- who represents an area of New York near the Delaware North corporate headquarters -- is a note that he and his chief of staff would be in attendance. Collins' office and Delaware North did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting.

CNN and the Center for Western Priorities, a nonpartisan conservation group that opposes Zinke's policy initiatives, separately reviewed Zinke's calendars and compared them to email conversations between Zinke and his scheduling aide, all of which were released over the past few months under the Freedom of Information Act to groups seeking greater transparency.

The analyses found several examples the secretary's calendar not including a full list of attendees or agenda items. In some cases, names are redacted. In others, aides note some of the meeting attendees but not all, or use non-descript terms like "personal" and "hold," including when Zinke met with a federal contractor.

A similar investigation looking at former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's calendars led to CNN uncovering a "secret" calendar maintained by Pruitt's aides. A former Pruitt deputy chief of staff said aides met regularly to "scrub" potentially controversial meetings from his calendar. Pruitt resigned days later, under a cloud of ethics questions.

There are no allegations of a similar effort to scrub calendars in Zinke's department, but unlike Pruitt, Zinke does not produce a regularly updated calendar nor provide the beat reporters covering his department regular updates on his upcoming events.

"He shows the same deliberate lack of transparency that brought down Scott Pruitt," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, of Zinke. "If he won't stop having suspect meetings on taxpayers' time, the least he could do is release timely, accurate information about how he spends his days as a public servant."

Zinke's whereabouts are not readily available to the public. The last posting about an upcoming event on the department's website is dated nearly a year ago, on July 27, 2017. Almost nine months have passed since the last update to "On the Road with Secretary Zinke," a blog -- occasionally written in first person -- about Zinke's visits to national parks and other department facilities.

In a statement, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said Interior "complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations."

"We always strive towards transparency which is why we include additional information in briefings that are made available to the public," Swift said. "Additionally, it's very common for schedule items to be canceled the day of, which is why something could be referred to in an email or briefing and not be on the calendar released."

But Swift also acknowledged the agency hasn't posted notices on Zinke's upcoming events to its site in nearly a year. She said the agency decided to only e-mail notices directly to local news outlets when Zinke travels to their areas. "We send one to local press every time the Secretary travels if there's open press (opportunities)," Swift said.

Similar to what CNN found when examining Pruitt's calendar, there are cases, such as the Delaware North meeting, where Zinke's calendar revealed some but not all of the meeting attendees.

A May 31, 2017 meeting in Alaska, for example, is noted on Zinke's trip itinerary as "Meeting with Mayor Harry Brower, North Slope Borough." But a briefing packet prepared ahead of the trip notes that two lobbyists from Van Ness Feldman, a firm that represents the borough in a lawsuit against the Interior Department, were also present.

In other cases, events were included on Zinke's calendar, but redacted before the documents were made public. The redaction note "NR," or non-responsive, does not disclose why the redaction was made, and in multiple instances, the redacted information involves agency business. Swift said the department's solicitor's office handles redactions.

That type of redaction was made of Zinke's May 18, 2017 visit to an Interior-owned gun range with the US Park Police, an arm of the Interior Department. The visit is redacted from his calendar without an explanation for why, but CNN found references in two emails from his scheduling aide, including as "Shooting Range Day with Park Police."

Zinke has previously come under scrutiny for questionable uses of Park Police resources: He has used their helicopters to attend events, and brought a Park Police security detail on his family vacation to Greece and Turkey last year.

Redactions occasionally mask seemingly innocuous information, such as when Zinke ate dinner with a former Trump transition official on May 24, 2017 or when he attended an event described as Navy "SEAL Night" the day before. Zinke is a former Navy Seal.

Interior officials also redacted Zinke's meeting with the grandson of a congressman on the topic of "college football" on June 9, 2017. The congressman, Republican Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, sits on the committee overseeing Zinke's department. Zinke played college football at the University of Oregon. The congressman's office did not respond to a request for further information on the meeting.

Swift described it as a mentoring session. "This was a personal meeting with a young man who was considering playing football in college," Swift wrote. She says it was redacted because it was personal and not department business.

Certain entries are described in vague ways, such as "personal" or "hold." The Center for Western Priorities found a case where generic words shielded from public view the name of a government contractor who met with Zinke last September.

Grijalva says he plans to ask for an investigation.

"The kind of entitlement sense that they brought into their positions -- like I'm not going to worry about these little ethics issues," he told CNN. "What's that? That doesn't apply to me. Hell with them, they shouldn't get the calendar. And I can meet whoever I want and nobody needs to know about it."

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the date on which Zinke met with Rep. Chris Collins.

West Lafayette
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 63°
Kokomo
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Rensselaer
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 66°
Fowler
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 63°
Williamsport
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Crawfordsville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Frankfort
Cloudy
64° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Delphi
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 63°
Monticello
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 64°
Logansport
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 63°
Comfortable weekend with a few spotty showers & t'showers...
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 771299

Reported Deaths: 14005
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1059471808
Lake570611031
Allen43193700
Hamilton37458426
St. Joseph37420568
Elkhart29819471
Tippecanoe23584231
Vanderburgh23431405
Porter19616327
Johnson18899394
Hendricks18168323
Clark13623199
Madison13604348
Vigo12908256
Monroe12626178
LaPorte12594225
Delaware11183198
Howard10747237
Kosciusko9810124
Hancock8799150
Bartholomew8296157
Warrick8150157
Floyd8072183
Grant7397181
Wayne7254201
Boone7236105
Morgan6948143
Marshall6358117
Dubois6301118
Cass6110112
Dearborn604078
Noble603590
Henry5971111
Jackson518677
Shelby512898
Lawrence4961127
Gibson467296
Montgomery461392
Clinton458455
DeKalb458485
Harrison456977
Huntington421382
Whitley418645
Steuben412861
Miami407273
Jasper402556
Knox393191
Putnam386862
Wabash371684
Adams355356
Ripley352771
Jefferson347187
White340954
Daviess3098100
Wells304881
Greene295985
Decatur293493
Fayette287464
Posey285435
Scott283458
LaGrange278472
Clay276049
Washington255637
Randolph248283
Jennings240449
Spencer239731
Fountain237250
Starke230859
Owen224759
Sullivan222943
Fulton209545
Jay203432
Carroll198822
Orange192756
Perry191939
Vermillion181944
Rush178627
Tipton173848
Franklin173035
Parke156816
Pike143434
Blackford138232
Pulaski124048
Newton123736
Benton110515
Brown106443
Crawford106316
Martin92715
Warren88015
Switzerland8488
Union73710
Ohio58411
Unassigned0429

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events