President Donald Trump’s administration announced Friday that the White House won’t release records of its visitors, raising new concerns from transparency advocates.
The decision not to voluntarily disclose White House visitor logs is a break from the policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration, even though Trump had called his predecessor the “least transparent president.”
White House communications director Michael Dubke framed the decision not to disclose who visits the president as resulting from the “national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Time magazine first reported the reversal.
Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, called the White House’s security and privacy claims “a White House lie.”
“What’s really going on is the swamp suits Donald Trump just fine,” Blanton said, mocking the president’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington.
Blanton said Obama’s White House shared logs of nearly 6 million visitors with no national security ramifications. Under Obama, the White House released records about three months after visits occurred. The policy contained exceptions, however, allowing the White House to withhold the names of people it believed were sensitive or personal visitors to the Obama family.
The Trump White House’s decision not to follow suit was met with alarm from transparency advocates, including the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, whose president said the organization was “disappointed.”
“This new secrecy policy undermines the rule of law and suggests this White House doesn’t want to be accountable to the American people,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said its lawsuits against the Obama administration pressured it to be transparent with the visitor logs.
“It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing the release the White House visitor logs … that provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “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.”
Indeed, several groups already filed a lawsuit demanding the White House turn over the records, as well as logs of visitors to his homes in New York and Florida. These groups had already gone after Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, as other major presidential candidates have done.
“The only reason to keep secret the White House visitor logs is to hide from the American public the corporate influence-peddlers who are seeking favors and gifts from the White House,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “More secrecy equals more cronyism, more insider dealing and more corruption.”
Trump himself inadvertently relied on the visitor logs last month when he tweeted, under scrutiny about his aides’ contacts with Moscow, that the Russian ambassador visited the White House 22 times under Obama. A Daily Caller reporter whose piece Trump appeared to be quoting tweeted Friday that she used the visitor logs as the basis of her story.
Under the Presidential Records Act, a legal expert told POLITICO, the visitor records will be available for release if requested through the Freedom of Information Act, but not until five years after Trump leaves office.
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