White House decides against releasing visitor records

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Friday that it will not release logs of visitors to the White House, breaking with the practice of President Donald Trump’s predecessor.

The decision will outrage open-government groups, and possibly spark fresh litigation to try to force the Trump administration to release the information. They see the logs as an important tool for monitoring which individuals or groups may be trying to influence government policy.

Trump has been widely criticized for a lack of openness for refusing to release his tax returns, breaking with decades of precedent.

Senior White House officials cited privacy and national security concerns for the decision not to release the visitor logs. They argued that the decision is in line with what previous administrations have done, except for President Barack Obama’s, and that continuing Obama’s practice of releasing the records could interfere with policy development.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said Trump has already taken steps to improve the ethical climate in Washington, such as imposing new restrictions on lobbying by departing White House officials and opening the White House press briefing room to outlets that previously didn’t have access.

He said the “Trump administration has broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people.”

After some litigation, the Obama White House began releasing the visitor records late in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. White House lawyers also deleted names for national security and other reasons before the logs were made public, meaning the records provided an incomplete picture of exactly who entered and left the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

As incomplete as the Obama documents were, his administration ultimately released nearly 6 million records.

In contrast, the Trump administration’s decision to end the practice means that no records documenting any White House comings and goings will be released on a routine basis while he is in office, though the officials said some information could be released case by case.

However, visitor logs for White House agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Trade Representative, may be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The White House is exempt from the law.

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