DECEMBER 08, 2009
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Secret Service for denying Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for access to Obama White House visitor logs from January 20 to August 10, 2009. The Obama administration continues to advance the erroneous claim that the visitor logs are not agency records and are therefore not subject to FOIA. As Judicial Watch noted in its complaint, this claim “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by federal courts.
The Obama White House did voluntarily release a select number of White House visitor logs to the public. However, other records continue to be withheld in defiance of FOIA law. According to Judicial Watch’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on December 7:
Since [Judicial Watch] sent its…FOIA request to the Secret Service, the White House has released certain visitor records voluntarily, pursuant to its discretionary release policy. The White House’s voluntary production of a portion of the requested records, however, does not satisfy the Secret Service’s statutory obligation to produce any and all nonexempt records responsive to Judicial Watch’s request. Nor does it remedy the Secret Service’s claim, contrary to well established case law, that the requested records are not agency records subject to FOIA.
Judicial Watch criticized the Obama administration over this issue in a press release on October 16. The following week, a White House lawyer called Judicial Watch to set up a meeting with “senior White House officials.” On October 27, Judicial Watch staff visited with White House officials led by Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government, to discuss Judicial Watch’s pursuit of the White House visitor logs, as well as other transparency and ethics issues. During the meeting, the Obama White House officials asked Judicial Watch to scale back its request and expressed hope that Judicial Watch would publicly praise the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency. However, the White House refused to abandon its legally indefensible line of reasoning that White House visitor logs are not subject to FOIA law. In a November 30 follow up letter, Mr. Eisen reiterated the Obama administration’s legal position and, citing national security concerns, requested that Judicial Watch “focus and narrow (its) request.”
“The courts have affirmed that these White House visitor records are subject to release under FOIA law. If the Obama administration is serious about transparency, they will agree to the release of these records under the Freedom of Information Act,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The recent ‘party crasher’ scandal at the White House put the spotlight on the need for transparency under law when it comes to who visits the White House.”