The Trump administration announced Friday that it will not voluntarily release the names of visitors to the White House, a reversal of the Obama administration’s practice of disclosing most visits roughly three months after they occurred. Via Time magazine:
White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision … was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. …
Under the Trump Administration’s directive, logs of those entering the White House complex will be kept secret until at least five years after Trump leaves office—at which point they will first be eligible to be requested by the public, press and scholars. The White House did not say who would maintain custody of the records during his time in office.
Obama’s voluntary release of the visitors logs began in 2009—part of his promise to run “the most transparent administration in history,” which he didn’t exactly live up to—and the administration released roughly 6 million such records during his two terms in office. The logs, however, never gave a complete picture of who was coming and going at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As Time points out, the White House Counsel’s office had the ability to unilaterally redact such records for any number or reasons, meaning they could—and often did—obscure visits from celebrities, big-dollar donors, and those under consideration for judicial nominations. (Senior White House staff, meanwhile, could circumvent the record-keeping process all together by simply meeting lobbyists at nearby coffee shops.)
Still, Trump’s decision doesn’t have to be entirely unique for it to be troubling, particularly given his White House’s obvious disdain for transparency (and general love of misinformation). Trump has called the press the “opposition party” and the “enemy of the people,” and his administration continues to avoid making important information public unless they have to—and, even then, they have gone out of their way to bury it in bureaucratic procedure. Add to that the obvious conflicts created by the president’s personal business interests at home and abroad, and you have a recipe for kleptocracy of the kind we’ve already caught a distinct whiff of from this White House.
Last month, congressional Democrats introduced a bill—creatively named the “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act,” or MAR-A-LAGO Act—that would require the disclosure of visitors at places where Trump “regularly conducts official business,” which would include the White House and the private club in Florida he owns and has frequently visited since taking office. Republicans, however, have shown no interest in taking up the matter. Meanwhile, as Politico discovered last month, no one is even bothering to keep a formal list of visitors to Mar-a-Lago.