6 months ago By Eric Boehm and Earl Glynn, Watchdog.org
The “most transparent administration in American history” has won another victory for secrecy
The “most transparent administration in American history” has won another victory for secrecy.
A three-judge panel in U.S. Appeals Court ruled in favor of the Obama administration on Friday in an open-records case dealing with White House visitor logs. The court ruled that the logs, kept by the U.S. Secret Service, are not covered by the federa lFreedom of Information Act, or FOIA, overturning a U.S. district court ruling that said they were.
Though Secret Service “agency records” can be subject to FOIA laws, the panel ruled unanimously that the visitors logs to the White House do not count as such.
Since Congress specifically exempted the president’s schedule and calendar from the FOIA law, the same practice should apply to the Secret Service’s records of visitors to the White House, Judge Merrick B. Garland wrote in the court’s opinion.
“At the bottom, we do not believe Congress intended that FOIA requesters be able to obtain from the gatekeepers of the White House what they are unable to obtain from its occupants,” he wrote.
However, the appeals court also ruled that that records of visitors to offices on the ground of the White House — such as the Office of Budget and Management and theCouncil on Environmental Quality — were subject to the FOIA law and must be disclosed.
Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group, was the plaintiff in the case. They were seeking the full list of visitors to the White House during the first seven months of President Barack Obama’s first term, including visitors who met with the president and those who met with his top staffers.
Tom Fitten, president of Judicial Watch, said the appeals court ruling “punches another hole in the Freedom of Information Act.”
The case began in 2009 when Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information request for the White House visitor logs from Jan. 20, 2009, through Aug. 10, 2009. The U.S. Secret Service, which creates and maintains the visitor logs, denied the request.
In district court, a judge sided with Judicial Watch and ordered the White House to turn over most, but not all, of the visitor logs.
Since September 2009, the White House has released visitor logs to the public, but so far has refused to make public the logs from the administration’s first six months.
Judicial Watch is “strongly considering” an appeal to the most recent ruling, Fitten said.
When he took office, Obama promised to run the most transparent administration in American history — a statement he has often repeated (as recently as last month) while simultaneously engaging in legal battles to keep records secret and to punish those who leak information to the media.
In the 1996 investigation of President Bill Clinton, Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr scrutinized visitor records that showed Monica Lewinsky may have visited the White House 37 times.
Congressional investigators sought White House visitor records in 2001 to resolve discrepancies in testimony over pardons issued by President Clinton on his last day in office.
In 2006, President George W. Bush attempted to put visitor records outside the FOIA process by quietly signing an agreement with the Secret Service declaring such records were White House presidential records, not Secret Service agency records.
Lawsuits filed from 2006 to 2009 by the Washington Post and the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) attempted to force disclosure of visitor records by the White House.
Mostly because of the CREW lawsuits, the White House announced a voluntary disclosure policy four years ago Wednesday that started the monthly releases in Dec. 2009.
When the Obama administration started the voluntary release of lists visitors from Jan. 20, 2009 to Sept. 15, 2009 were not included. Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in Dec. 2009 to force the release of all records from that period.
New releases of visitor records occur on the last Friday of the month with information from three months before. The latest release was on Friday with visitors listed from May 2013.