As the Obama Administration praises itself for making history by releasing a record number of White House visitor logs through 2011, it conveniently omits that it was a Judicial Watch lawsuit that forced the disclosure.
Here is how it all went down; in the fall of 2009 President Obama announced that, for the first time in history, White House visitor records would be made available to the public on an ongoing basis. What the administration didn’t reveal is that it would release visitor information at its own discretion and that tens of thousands of visitor logs were being withheld from disclosure.
JW sued, asking the court to order the release of Secret Service logs of White House visitors. The administration argued 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 Obama Administration, Judge Beryl Howell of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in August that Secret Service White House visitor logs are agency records that are subject to disclosure under FOIA. In fact, Judge Howell noted precedent on this 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.”
The legal precedent didn’t stop Obama from mounting a fierce—and desperate—battle to withhold the records. It certainly contradicts his promise of a new era of transparency. Of course, none of this is mentioned in the new White House announcement boasting about releasing more than 1.9 million visitor records. The logs include visits generated in September 2011 as well as several from 2009 that were requested by members of the public “pursuant to the White House voluntary disclosure policy.”