Remember when the Obama White House proudly announced it would make records of White House visitors publicly available as a demonstration of the president’s “commitment to transparency?” Well, this announcement may have played well in the lap-dog press, but when you dive into the details, it appears these White House logs are “riddled with holes,” rendering the grand Obama promise into nothing more than political posturing.
According to the Center for Public Integrity:
The [White House visitor] logs are…incomplete for thousands of…visitors to the White House, including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, policy experts, and friends of the first family, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.
The White House website proudly boasts of making available ‘over 1,000,000 records of everyone who’s come through the doors of the White House’ via a searchable database.
Yet the Center’s analysis shows that the logs routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, who they met with, the nature of the visit, and even includes the names of people who never showed up. These are critical gaps that raise doubts about their historical accuracy and utility in helping the public understand White House operations from social events to meetings on key policy debates.
Judicial Watch has been covering the White House visitor logs issue for a very long time. (And we were happy to help the Center for Public Integrity on its story.) In fact, it was Judicial Watch that successfully forced the release of White House visitor logs related to visits by former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff to the Bush White House all the way back in 2006.
When Obama assumed the presidency, we continued our aggressive pursuit of White House visitor logs. We believe the American people deserve to know who is coming in and out of the White House and that the law requires this information be made public – in full. We filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Obama Secret Service, which lawlessly claimed these records were not agency records subject to timely public disclosure. We were told that the visitor logs belonged to the White House, that the logs were subject to the Presidential Records Act, and, therefore, would not be released.
Judicial Watch immediately went public with the Obama administration’s ridiculous position on the release of the visitor logs, and earned quite a bit of press attention on the matter. And that, in turn, earned the attention of White House officials.
And so, in the fall of 2009, JW staff was “invited” to visit with senior White House official Norm Eisen, then-Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government (Ethics Czar), to discuss Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the White House visitor logs. The White House encouraged us to publicly praise the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency, saying it would be good for them and good for us. However, the Obama team refused to abandon their legally indefensible contention that Secret Service’s White House visitor logs are not subject to disclosure under FOIA law. So we filed a lawsuit in December 2009 to ask the court to enforce the law.
(This lawsuit, incidentally, is ongoing. The White House is sticking to its bogus line that there will be “dire national consequences” if these records are released and that they may be kept secret. And we are sticking to our argument that the law and court precedent mandate that they be released. )
As all of this back and forth was going on behind the scenes, the Obama White House publicly announced its new “plan” to make these logs public, which, as we now see, is just another broken Obama promise on transparency. (Tens of thousands of documents continue to be withheld.) The Obama White House has no incentive to make sure the White House visitor records are accurate because it thinks it is above the law and does not have to answer to a court about how the records are maintained. That’s where we come in. Our lawsuit is the best hope for ensuring that this abuse of office by President Obama is stopped.
If you want to know about all of the other Obama broken promises on transparency, check out the testimony I recently provided to Congress during Sunshine Week. As you may recall, I testified before committees in the House and Senate and gave the Obama administration a “failing grade” on transparency. And, as I think you’ll see, I was well justified in making this assessment.
Tuesday, May 3, I’m scheduled to testify to Congress on this very issue. Judicial Watch has been invited to present testimony to the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. The hearing is entitled “White House Transparency, Visitor Logs and Lobbyists.”
To view the proceedings Tuesday live online, click here:
- When: Tuesday, May 3, 10:30 AM ET
- Where: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2123