The Trump administration announced Friday that it will not be voluntarily disclosing the names of visitors to the White House complex, citing “grave national security risks and privacy concerns.”
The announcement prompted criticism from ethics and watchdog groups, who argue the public has a right to know who visits the White House. Three such groups sued the administration in federal court last week, demanding that the logs be released.
“It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing to release the White House visitor logs that the American people have grown accustomed to accessing over the last six years,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The Trump White House is breaking practice from the Obama administration, which decided to voluntarily post visitor logs, though exceptions were carved out for personal guests of the first family and records relating to particularly sensitive meetings. Obama at times drew criticism about transparency as well, such as after it was reported that White House officials were meeting lobbyists at a coffee shop off the White House grounds to avoid disclosure on the visitor logs.
Although CREW and others argue that the records are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, the Trump administration said the White House is under no legal obligation to disclose visitors to the complex. Under the Trump administration’s new policy, the records will be sealed until five years after Trump leaves office.
The announcement comes as the administration endures a number of complaints about transparency. Congressional Democrats have recently accused the administration of ordering federal agencies to withhold information they have requested. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has tasked Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) with tracking Democrats’ correspondence to the administration. A spokesperson from Pelosi’s office told the Washington Post last week that so far, there are more than 100 cases where House Democrats have sought specific information from the administration and received no response.