The decision, a split from the preceding administration of President Barack Obama, came after months of speculation about what Trump’s administration would do with the records.
White House communications director Michael Dubke told Time the reversal from the Obama administration’s policy was in the name of “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
The logs, which are maintained by the Secret Service, will be under wraps for at least five years after Trump leaves office. Trump officials made a point to note to Time that the Obama White House fought in court to keep elements of its logs, which were at times incomplete, redacted or withheld. Obama officials often took steps to get around the records, six million of which were voluntarily released by the administration, by meeting with individuals off the White House grounds, as Time noted.
Over the past few months, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was pressed repeatedly about when the Trump administration would be publishing the visitor logs.
“We’re reviewing that now,” he told a reporter in late March.
“I think we should have an answer on our policy very shortly on that,” he said earlier this week when asked.
In March, a slew of Democratic lawmakers introduced the MAR-A-LAGO Act, which would require disclosure of the visitor logs at the White House and Trump properties where the president frequents for government business.
“This stunning decision from the Trump White House raises an obvious question: what is President Trump trying to hide?” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the lawmaker who introduced the legislation, said in a statement. “Once again, this administration is stonewalling information that Congress and the American people have a right to see.”
“Americans simply deserve to know who has access to the president and who is working to influence policy at the highest levels,” he continued. “The president brings unprecedented conflicts of interest to the White House, and he already has taken actions in office that suggest he is more concerned with helping people like him – the wealthy and well–connected – than he is with empowering ordinary Americans. By refusing to release the White House visitor logs, President Trump is confirming widespread concerns that the special interests are getting special treatment in this administration. The president’s promise to ‘drain the swamp’ has never rung more hollow than it does today.”
Earlier this week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the Department of Homeland Security — which is the department containing the Secret Service — for the visitor logs at the White House, Mar-a-Lago, and Trump Tower.
“We hoped that the Trump administration would follow the precedent of the Obama administration and continue to release visitor logs, but unfortunately they have not,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue.”
After news of the Trump administration’s decision broke, Bookbinder wrote “it looks like we’ll see them in court.”
“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,” he said in a statement. “The Obama administration agreed to release the visitor logs in response to our lawsuits, and despite the Trump administration’s worry over ‘grave national security risks and concerns,’ only positives for the American people came out of them.”
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