Trump is keeping White House visitor log secret

The decision effectively bars the public from knowing which activists, lobbyists, political donors and others are gaining access to the President and his aides on a daily basis.
The decision effectively bars the public from knowing which activists, lobbyists, political donors and others are gaining access to the President and his aides on a daily basis.PHOTO: AFP

'Security reasons' behind decision to shield activities of President and aides from scrutiny

WEST PALM BEACH (Florida) • The White House has announced that it would cut off public access to visitor logs revealing who is entering the White House complex and which officials they are meeting, breaking with the Obama administration's practice and returning a cloak of secrecy over the daily workings of the government.

The decision - which White House officials said last Friday was necessary for reasons of national security - was the latest attempt by President Donald Trump to shield his activities from scrutiny.

It effectively bars the public from knowing which activists, lobbyists, political donors and others are gaining access to the President and his aides on a daily basis.

It is also a stark reversal from the policy adopted by former president Barack Obama, who voluntarily released more than six million White House visitor records, even as his administration fought successfully in federal court for the right to keep some of the information secret.

The Trump policy effectively means that none of the White House visitor logs will be available for at least five years.

NO TRANSPARENCY

The only excuse for this policy is that the Trump administration has something to hide. 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'.

MR DAVID DONNELLY, president and chief executive of Every Voice, a politics watchdog, on the move.

Under the Presidential Records Act, the public can gain access to records starting five years after the end of an administration, although the president may seek to keep them secret for up to 12 years.

Mr Trump has rejected other basic standards of presidential disclosures, like the release of his tax returns.

Mr Mike Dubke, the White House communications director, said the visitor logs were being withheld because of "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually".

The Obama administration routinely withheld records - like the identities of Mr Obama's daughters' playmates or of people attending national security or intelligence meetings - but it was not anything near a blanket policy.

The new policy drew criticism from government watchdog groups, some of which filed suit against the Trump administration last week to obtain the records.

National Security Archive director Tom Blanton said the national security argument was "a falsehood" because the Obama-era policy made such exceptions.

Mr David Donnelly, president and chief executive of politics watchdog Every Voice, said: "The only excuse for this policy is that the Trump administration has something to hide.

"This kind of secrecy will allow big donors, lobbyists and special interests to have unknown levels of influence in the White House."

Referring to Mr Trump's pledge to usher in a more ethical and less corrupt era in Washington, he said: "It's the exact opposite of 'draining the swamp'."

The existence of the visitor logs burst into the news last month when House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, went to the White House grounds to review intelligence reports on which he later briefed the President.

Mr Nunes and White House officials initially declined to say whom he had visited and who had cleared him, information that is typically contained in the logs, along with the length of the stay.

Some past and present government officials have argued that White House officials should be permitted to conduct meetings outside the public eye. Mr Andrew Card Jr, chief of staff under former president George W. Bush, said: "We don't have a log on everybody who visits Congress, and they're a co-equal branch of government."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Trump is keeping White House visitor log secret'. Print Edition | Subscribe