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White House Refuses to Release Visitor Logs

WASHINGTON -- Facing lawsuits from government transparency advocates, the Trump administration nevertheless reversed course from the Obama-era practice of posting White House visitor logs in an online, publicly accessible database.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced earlier this week that they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security after unanswered requests to the Secret Service to provide President Trump's visitor logs at the White House, Mar-a-Lago and his New York office.

It was these FOIA lawsuits that led the Obama administration to agree to start posting the visitor logs in September 2009. The ethics.gov site created then now just contains archived Obama-era records.

White House Communications Director Mike Dubke released a statement Friday saying that while "instituting historic restrictions on lobbying to close the revolving door, expanding and elevating ethics within the White House counsel's office, and opening the White House press briefing room to media outlets that otherwise cannot gain access, the Trump administration has broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people."

“Given the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the White House Office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court,” Dubke added.

The administration is arguing that, as presidential records, the logs should become accessible five years after Trump leaves office.

CREW replied in a statement, "It looks like we’ll see them in court."

“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 and that provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president," said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. "The Obama administration agreed to release the visitor logs in response to our lawsuits, and despite the Trump administration’s worry over ‘grave national security risks and concerns,’ only positives for the American people came out of them."

National Security Archive director Tom Blanton called Dubke's claim of national security risks "a White House lie."

“There is no national security risk to releasing the visitor logs; we have seven years of nearly 6 million Obama visitors that prove no problem. Privacy was protected there, too," Blanton said. "What’s really going on is the swamp suits Donald Trump just fine.”

Judicial Watch said it was "disappointed" by the administration's decision, calling it a move "perfectly in line with the policy of the Obama White House to prevent these visitors logs from being processed and released under the Freedom of Information Act."