The Trump administration thinks that disclosing the names of those who are visiting the White House poses a ‘grave national security risk,’ so it decided to keep those names secret. The decision marks a major policy shift from the previous administration, which didn’t shy away from reporting the names of more than 6 million visitors, of whom many were lobbyists.
Visitor Logs to Be Largely Kept Secret
By contrast, the new administration will set some restrictions on how that data is disclosed. The White House will identify the visitors only when somebody files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Plus, the visitors must visit an office considered a separate agency, such as the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
In the short run, the White House will have the final say on which names are released to the public when someone visits the complex to meet with the president, the vice president, or other senior staff members. In the long run, a full list could become public years after Trump is no longer in office.
The White House announced the new policy on Friday. Pro-transparency watchdogs harshly criticized the measure. For instance, activists at Every Voice think the new administration has something to hide. They argue that the new policy will allow lobbyists, big donors, and other special interest groups freely enter the White House behind taxpayers’ backs.
It’s the exact opposite of ‘draining the swamp,’
an activist said.
A few days ago, several watchdog groups sued the administration, urging it to release visitor logs. Under the previous administration, the logs were made public between 90 and 120 days following the visit. They were usually published on the White House’s official website. After Trump was sworn in, that section of the website went dark. On Friday, the White House said that they’ll get rid of it to save taxpayers $70,000 over the next three years.
The FOIA Controversy
Obama’s policy was drafted in 2009 as a response to string of lawsuits filed by one of the groups that are now suing Trump – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Under the old policy, the White House could keep secret only some types of visits such as Obama family’s private visits or sensitive meetings with SCOTUS nominees or those regarding national security issues.
Obama too was criticized over those exceptions and the methods he used to fend off the disclosures, such as meeting with lobbyists at nearby coffee shops. In a 2012 lawsuit, the Obama administration said that the logs represent White House records so they shouldn’t be disclosed under FOIA. The Trump administration maintains that logic.
Activists, however, say the logs should be disclosed under FOIA because they are created by the Secret Service, an agency included in the law. Ironically, on the campaign trail, Trump criticized Obama for spending millions in lawsuits to hide the logs and for being the “least transparent president” even though he had pledged to be transparent during the presidential race.
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