Should records of those who visit the White House be public knowledge? The Trump administration said on Friday that visitors to the White House would stay secret until at least five years after Trump leaves office. This is a reversal of previous policy, and it was quickly denounced by those who advocate for a transparent government.
“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,” Trump communications director Mike Duke said in a statement.
The court ruling in reference described White House visitor logs as “presidential records” which are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In spite of this decision, the Obama administration voluntarily released more than 6 million records of visits during their eight years in office. President Trump is reversing this voluntary practice. The president’s team came to this decision after three groups filed a suit demanding a release of White House visitor records, as well as visitors to Trump Tower in New York and the president’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. The three organizations are Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. They allege that failure to release the records violates the Freedom of Information Act. It was the effort of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) that led to Obama’s voluntary release of the information.
“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 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.
President Trump’s team defended their position by citing “historic restrictions on lobbying to close the revolving door, expanding and elevating ethics within the White House Counsel’s office, and opening the White House Press Briefing room to media outlets that otherwise cannot gain access.” They also disclosed that the Obama policy made exceptions for visitors to “sensitive” meetings and conducted some of their meetings outside of the White House at a nearby coffee shop. So the information disclosed by the previous administration was certainly selective.
The decision from the Trump administration is presently within the law. Do you think that it is the right decision?
Credit: USA Today