Obama Administration Denies Judicial Watch FOIA Request for White House Visitor Logs
OCTOBER 16, 2009
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that the U.S. Secret Service (under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security) has denied Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for access to Obama White House visitor logs from January 20, 2009 to present. In refusing to abide by FOIA law, the Secret Service advanced the erroneous claim that the records belong to the Obama White House, not the agency, and are therefore may be kept secret under the Presidential Records Act. A federal district court has ruled twice that all visitor records belong to the Secret Service and therefore should be available under the Freedom of Information Act.
According to an October 8 letter from the Department of Homeland Security related to Judicial Watch’s request: “It is the government’s position that the categories of records that you requested are not agency records subject to the FOIA. Rather, these records are governed by the Presidential Records Act…and remain under the exclusive legal custody and control of the White House Office and the Office of the Vice President.” The letter goes on to state that the White House might release these records at its discretion.
Judicial Watch successfully forced the release of White House visitor logs related to visits by former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff’s to the Bush White House. As Judicial Watch has argued previously in court filings, the U.S. Secret Service is an agency within the meaning of FOIA and its records are therefore subject to FOIA. The law provides no exceptions for certain types of Secret Service records and does not excuse the Secret Service from complying with FOIA. Moreover, the Presidential Records Act specifically states that presidential records do “not include any documentary materials that are (i) official records of an agency…”
The Obama administration announced in September that it would post some White House visitor log information on the White House website beginning on December 31, 2009. However, records from January 20, 2009 through September 15, 2009 will be kept secret, except in narrow specific circumstances. The Obama White House has yet to explain why visitor logs from its first eight months will be afforded special protection.
“Just because the Obama White House says FOIA law doesn’t cover White House visitor logs doesn’t make it so. The Obama administration is not above the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These visitor logs are subject to release under FOIA and the courts have affirmed this. Judicial Watch has no intention of abandoning its pursuit of these records. We will go to court, if necessary.”