Friday, April 14, 2017

Trump Will Keep List of White Houses Visitors Secret

The Trump Administration announced Friday that it would not follow former President Obama's policy of Voluntarily disclosing the Names of most visitors to the White House complex or any other site he considers the White House, citing “grave national security risks and privacy concerns.”

The announcement, from an Administration that has faced pointed questions about its commitment to transparency, marks a significant shift from an Obama White House that released the names of nearly 6 million Lobbyists and other visitors during Obama's tenure.

Instead, the Trump Administration said it would release information under far more limited circumstances: when Freedom of Information Act requests are filed for those visiting offices of the White House classified under the Law as separate Agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget.

Under the new Policy, it will be up to the White House to decide whether to release names of Visitors coming to meet with the President, Vice President, and their Senior staff, at least in the short term. Under a separate Statute, much of that information can become Public years after Trump leaves office.

“The only excuse for this policy is that the Trump administration has something to hide,” said David Donnelly, President and chief Executive of Every Voice. “This kind of secrecy will allow big donors, lobbyists and special interests to have unknown levels of influence in the White House. It's the exact opposite of 'draining the swamp.'"

The Trump Administration was sued in federal Court earlier this week by a coalition of Watchdog groups to Compel the Release of White House records. Under Obama, such Visitor Logs, which were published on a White House-maintained Web page, were typically disclosed 90 to 120 days after the visit.

Since Trump took office in January, the page where the Visitor Logs had been publicly available has gone dark, and Trump Administration officials said Friday that they will no longer maintain it, which the White House said would save taxpayers $70,000 by 2020.

Trump aides said the new Policy is consistent with a Legal distinction that Obama officials drew in a 2012 Lawsuit. Despite the Voluntary Disclosure of Visitor Logs, the Obama Administration maintained that the Logs were White House Records and therefore not required to be Disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

Others have argued that the records are subject to Disclosure under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because they are created by the Secret Service, which is an Agency covered by the Law.

The existence of the Visitor Logs burst back into the news last month when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) went to the White House grounds to review Intelligence Reports on which he later briefed the President. Both Nunes and White House officials initially declined to say whom Nunes had visited and who had cleared him onto the grounds, information that is typically contained in the Logs, along with the length of the stay.

White House Communications Director Mike Dubke said Friday that has taken several steps to ensure the Government “is both ethical and accessible to the American people.” Among those he mentioned were new Restrictions on Lobbyists and allowing Journalists to participate remotely in White House Briefings via Skype.

“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,” Dubke said in a statement.

Senate Democrats are doubling down on their effort to force the Trump Administration to Publicly release Visitor Logs for the White House and Mar-a-Lago with a Bill named for Trump's Florida resort. Sens. Tom Udall (NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Tom Carper (DE), and Jack Reed (RI) introduced the the Make Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act or MAR-A-LAGO Act.

The Legislation would require the Trump Administration to publish Public Visitor Logs for the White House "or any other location where President Trump regularly conducts official business."

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) is also introducing a House Version of the Legislation.

Democrats have hounded the Trump Administration to continue the Obama-era practice of Publicly releasing Visitor Logs, and they want him to extend it to the Florida resort he has called the "winter White House."

Udall accused the Administration of "Stonewalling" and avoiding Transparency. "It’s simple: the American people have a right to know who has access to the president and who has leverage over this administration,” he said in a statement.

In addition to Mar-A-Lago and the White House, the Legislation would include Visitor Lists for Trump Tower and the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.

Senate Democrats also sent a Letter to Trump and William Callahan, the Secret Service Deputy Director, asking when they planned to publish Visitor Logs.

Whitehouse added that "if [Trump] won’t adopt that policy himself, Congress should require it.”

But the Legislation faces an uphill battle in a GOP-controlled Congress, where Democrats will need to win Republican support to get any Bill sent to Trump's desk.

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