WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Friday that records of visitors to the White House will stay secret until at least five years after Trump leaves office, a reversal of policy quickly denounced by advocates of 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 Dubke said in a statement.
That federal court ruling said White House visitor logs are "presidential records" not subject to the Freedom of Information Act — though the Obama administration voluntarily released more than 6 million records of visitor during its eight years in office, a policy that Trump is reversing.
The Trump team's decision came days after three groups filed suit against the administration demanding release of visitor records to the White House, Trump Tower in New York, and the president's Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
The organizations — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University — allege in the suit that the failure to release the records violates the Freedom of Information Act.
Previous efforts by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) led to the Obama administration’s decision in 2009 to voluntarily release the visitor logs.
“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.
Dubke defended the Trump administration's record on open government, 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."
In a statement defending the decision to close visitor logs, the Trump administration said the Obama policy allowed exceptions for visitors to "sensitive" meetings. They also said that Obama aides conducted meetings at a nearby coffee shop.