WASHINGTON - The Trump administration said Friday it will no longer routinely publicly release the names of visitors to the White House, citing “grave national security and privacy concerns” — a reversal of voluntary disclosures by President Barack Obama.
The visitor logs will be kept private and will no longer be posted on the White House website, as officials will decide on a case-by-case basis about naming people who meet with the president, vice president and senior staff.
In response to lawsuits, the Obama administration posted the visitor logs for most visitors, with exceptions for private personal visits and for sensitive meetings such as interviews with Supreme Court and other nominees.
As required by law, the Trump administration will continue to make public visitor information for meetings with budget, U.S. trade and three other offices within the White House complex in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
“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,” said White House communications director Michael Dubke.
The public disclosure section of the White House website has been a work in progress, with the recent addition of financial disclosures of cabinet members, which are available at the Office of Government Ethics.
Notably missing has been the visitor logs.
The White House announced its policy on visitor identification five days after three open-record advocacy groups, including Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, filed a lawsuit seeking the logs after a failed request under the Freedom of Information Act.
“It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of the groups suing for the visitor logs. The National Security Archive is the third group in the lawsuit.
The visitor logs include the names of visitors, dates and times of the visits and the officials in the meetings. Bookbinder said in a statement the logs “provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president.”
Bookbinder questioned the rationale given by the White House by noting that the Obama administration published the logs for the past six years without any issues and saying “only positives for the American people came out of them.”