The Trump administration said Friday it will not release logs of White House visitors, breaking with a precedent set by the Obama administration and shrouding Trump’s activities in the West Wing in secrecy.
The decision was made in light of the “grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually,” according to White House Communications Director Michael Dubke.
He said the administration would instead follow a legal precedent based on a 2013 court ruling that determined visitor logs were presidential records and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The move, first reported by Time magazine, is a break from the previous administration, which established a website where users could search records of people cleared into the White House complex for meetings and events.
The Obama administration created that service after lawsuits demanding the release of the visitor records. During his tenure, Obama’s administration released millions of visitor records, which are still accessible online. The records were not available instantaneously, however, and often took months before they were posted online.
Former administration officials said the visitor records — which are created when someone without a permanent credential submits their information to the Secret Service — were parsed monthly to remove any potentially sensitive meetings from the official record.
Officials said that sensitive meetings — including interviews of potential Supreme Court justices and huddles with top national security officials — were scrubbed from the official records. The Obama administration also maintained that guests at private social gatherings, which the Obamas held occasionally in their private residence, were exempt from having their names listed on the logs.
The records that were released contained information about who a visitor was meeting within the White House complex, what time they arrived, and how long they remained inside.
The Trump administration was sued this week by several watchdog groups seeking access to the records, which have not been released since Trump took office, insisting the records are actually the property of the Secret Service, which is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Democrats in Congress have also introduced legislation that would require the Trump administration to maintain and disclose the names of visitors at places aside the White House where he conducts business, including his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
On Friday, Dubke defended the White House’s decision by citing other areas he said was demonstrating new levels of transparency.
“By instituting 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, the Trump administration has broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people,” Dubke said.
The Citizens of Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that’s taken legal action pursuing the records’ release, blasted the Trump administration’s decision Friday.
“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,” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of CREW.
“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,” Bookbinder said. “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.”