White House decides against releasing visitor records

The decision represents a marked break between the Trump administration and its predecessor, as former President Barack Obama's White House voluntarily released almost 6 million visitor logs - though the Obama logs did routinely omit visitors the White House deemed vaguely as "personal".

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.

Ultimately, almost 6 million visitor records were released, though certain visits were excluded, including for national security or law enforcement reasons.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said Trump has taken steps to improve the ethical climate in Washington, such as imposing new restrictions on lobbying by departing administration officials and opening the White House press briefing room to outlets that previously didn't have access.

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The Obama administration initially fought attempts by Congress and conservative and liberal groups to obtain visitor records.

Those exemptions, said Blanton, demonstrate that the previous system allowed for transparency without compromising national security or privacy concerns.

Three of those organizations sued the administration in federal court this week, demanding the logs be released. The White House did not say who would maintain custody of the records during his time in office. White House officials said they expect that court to reach the same conclusion as the D.C. circuit, but suggested it would seek to litigate to preserve its ability to keep the records secret if necessary.

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.

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"The excuse the Trump administration is using is misleading", he said.

On Friday, Dubke defended the White House's decision by citing other areas he said was demonstrating new levels of transparency. "Given the unique aspects of how President Trump has made a decision to conduct official business, we believe he needs to do even more just to meet the benchmark of transparency set by President Obama".

Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Tom Carper of Delaware; Tom Udall of New Mexico; Kirsten Gillibrand of NY; and Richard Blumenthal of CT signed the letters.

"President Obama routinely released the data we're seeking with no damage to presidential privilege", National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said.

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"This is a case about the public's right to know who wields influence over the most powerful office in our government", KFAI official Alex Abdo added.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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