Obama Justice Department Tells Court to Shield White House Visitor Logs from Full Disclosure and FOIA Law
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that the Obama Justice Department advanced the erroneous claim in an April 21, 2010, court filing that Secret Service’s logs of White House visitors are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As Judicial Watch noted in its original complaint filed on December 7, 2009, this claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by the courts.
The Justice Department filing comes in Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit seeking records for all visitors to the White House from January 20, 2009, to the present. On February 22, 2010, Judicial Watch filed a “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment” in its lawsuit, noting that the rule of law and court precedent do not support the position of the Obama administration:
“At issue here is whether Secret Service visitor logs are agency records subject to the Freedom of Information Act (‘FOIA’), 5 U.S.C. § 552. To date, every court that has reached this issue has concluded that the requested documents are agency records and must be processed in response to a properly submitted FOIA request. As no disputes of material fact exist as to the nature of the records, summary judgment as to this straightforward legal issue should be entered now.”
Noting court precedent, Judicial Watch argued in its motion that the visitor logs were “created by” the U.S. Secret Service and that they remain “under agency control.” Judicial Watch also noted that the U.S. Secret Service had released the visitor logs in response to previous FOIA requests from Judicial Watch and other parties, further demonstrating that these records are under the control of the U.S. Secret Service and subject to FOIA.
However, Obama Justice Department lawyers countered in their court filing that “the district court cases on which [Judicial Watch] relies for a contrary conclusion were incorrectly decided,” and stuck by their argument that the visitor logs “are not agency (Secret Service) records subject to FOIA.” Justice Department lawyers also repeated the blanket argument that to release these records could compromise national security and praised the Obama administration’s efforts to “voluntarily” release some White House visitor logs to the public. (In 2009, the Obama White House began to release, in order to settle related litigation, a select number of Secret Service visitor logs to the public. However, tens of thousands of other records continue to be withheld in defiance of FOIA law.)
The Obama White House admits in the new court filing that it is taking records from the Secret Service in order to ensure that they are not disclosed under FOIA. The Obama administration speculates that there would be “dire national security consequences” if certain White House visitors are disclosed. The Obama White House wants to be able to withhold visitor logs until as long as 12 years after President Obama leaves office.
On October 27, at the request of the White House, Judicial Watch staff visited with senior White House officials led by Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government, to discuss Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the visitor logs. During the meeting, White House officials offered to make some accommodations to Judicial Watch on the visitor logs and encouraged Judicial Watch to publicly praise the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency. However, the White House refused to abandon its legally indefensible contention that the visitor logs are not subject to FOIA law, prompting Judicial Watch’s lawsuit.
“The Obama administration would undermine a key transparency law in order to keep White House visitor logs secret,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Only the Obama administration could offer to release pre-scrubbed White House visitor logs while withholding tens of thousands of other records and call it transparency. President Obama has violated his campaign promises of openness and transparency. We hope the court will do what it has done on previous occasions and uphold FOIA law.”