SEPTEMBER 04, 2012
For the second time this year the Obama Administration is publicly celebrating its “historic” release of White House visitor logs, conveniently omitting that droves of records are being withheld and Judicial Watch has gone to court to force complete disclosure.
Releasing the logs on an ongoing basis is simply part of President Obama’s commitment to government transparency, according to a recent announcement. Posted on the White House website to brag about the release of a new batch of logs, the announcement boasts that the administration has made public more than 2.5 million records as part of its voluntary disclosure policy.
Problem is, this wasn’t exactly voluntary and it doesn’t exactly abide by federal transparency laws. That’s why Judicial Watch has sued the administration, because it’s releasing visitor information at its own discretion, withholding tens of thousands of visitor logs from disclosure. This doesn’t meet Judicial Watch’s definition of transparency so in 2009 JW went to court to order the release of all Secret Service logs of White House visitors.
The administration fought hard, arguing in court that the logs were not “agency” records subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It further asserted that JW’s request could not be processed because it was too massive and broad, that it would raise Constitutional “separation of power” issues and national security concerns.
The federal judge who heard the case didn’t buy it. In a historic victory for government transparency and an embarrassing defeat for the president, Judge Beryl Howell of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last August that Secret Service White House visitor logs are agency records subject to disclosure under FOIA. In fact, Judge Howell noted precedent on the issue, writing in his opinion that “this Court agrees with the conclusions of the other judges in this District that have considered this question and finds that the records are subject to FOIA.”
Americans would never know about the president’s fierce legal battle to cherry pick which visitor records are made public if it wasn’t for groups like JW. In a separate announcement earlier this year, the White House brags about releasing more than 1.9 million visitor logs as part of a 2009 promise to make the records available on an ongoing basis. Nowhere was the real story mentioned; that a nonpartisan educational foundation had to sue to make it happen.
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