The swift actions the Trump administration is taking to forbid certain government agencies from corresponding with public officials could be illegal, a top Democrat is now alleging.
According to reporting from Politico, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, says that memos sent by various agencies in the Trump administration restricting communication with the public could be in violation of several federal laws.
More from the report:
In a letter to White House counsel Donald McGahn, Cummings cites a Jan. 20 memo sent by acting Health and Human Services Secretary Norris Cochran that says there should be “no correspondence to public officials (e.g. Members of Congress, Governors) … containing interpretations or statements of Department regulations or policy” unless they are approved by the department.
Cummings’ letter asks the Trump administration to “take immediate action to remedy the Trump administration’s apparent violations of multiple federal laws by imposing gag orders on federal employees that prevent them from communicating with Congress.”
Cummings argues the HHS memo, and possibly memos sent by other agencies, appear to violate several laws, including the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The whistleblower law, Cummings said, requires the inclusion of a “mandatory statement that employee communications with Congress and Inspectors General are protected” in “any nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement.”
Responding to criticism, the Trump administration is predictably blaming the media and claiming their directives are similar to those put out by previous administrations just after taking office. But the strict “gag orders” span several agencies, from Health and Human Services to the Department of Agriculture to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In emails to staff members at the EPA and Department of Agriculture, officials were told they are no longer allowed to discuss research with anybody outside their department.
Other government agencies have even taken preemptive steps to avoid being cut off from sharing critical information with the public, like the National Parks Service and NASA, both of which have reportedly created “rogue” Twitter accounts that aren’t officially connected to their agencies.
A series of other “resistance” Twitter accounts unofficially connected to other governmental bodies have popped up in recent days as well, from the National Weather Service to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to Politico, Rep. Cummings is also urging any federal employees to reach out to him if they are “alarmed” by the new administration’s actions restricting outside communication.
While the new president is taking harsh steps to cut off government transparency, particularly when it comes to the scientific community, the good news is that Democrats and the agencies themselves aren’t taking it lying down; they’re fighting back.