Written bySamantha Ehlinger
The Trump administration said Friday it will break with an Obama administration policy that proactively released most White House visitor logs online — a practice the former administration had held up as evidence of its commitment to transparency and opening government data.
“Given the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the White House Office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court,” White House Communications Director Mike Dubke said in a statement. Time first reported the news.
To be sure, the road was bumpy on the way to the Obama administration beginning to proactively post many of the White House visits. The liberal watchdog group the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed suits for certain visitor logs during both the Bush and Obama administrations, and the Obama administration said in 2009 it would release some of the logs in settling with the group.
The administration also said then that going forward, it would proactively release monthly the records of all visitors 90 to 120 days after the visits — with some exceptions.
Conservative group Judicial Watch also filed suit over the logs, and the court ruled in 2013 that logs of visits to the president and his close advisers were not “agency records,” within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act. The court did say that records of visits to components, like the Office of Management and Budget are agency records.
“It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing to release the White House visitor logs that the American people have grown accustomed to accessing over the last six years and that provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said Friday in a statement. “The Obama administration agreed to release the visitor logs in response to our lawsuits, and despite the Trump administration’s worry over ‘grave national security risks and concerns,’ only positives for the American people came out of them. This week, we sued the Trump administration to make sure they would continue to release the logs. It looks like we’ll see them in court.”
A group of democratic senators introduced in March a bill that would require “the publication of visitor logs to the White House or any other location where President Trump regularly conducts official business, including various Trump Organization properties frequented by the president.”
“It’s simple: the American people have a right to know who has access to the president and who has leverage over this administration,” said Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., in a statement at the time.