Washington, D.C.—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for failing to disclose records of visits to the White House and to President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower residences. The Secret Service, which is part of DHS, maintains White House visitor logs, but has refused to turn them over in response to FOIA requests.
Following four lawsuits by CREW, then-President Obama announced in September 2009 that the White House would post the visitor logs online every month, on a 90 to 120-day delay, with limited exceptions. The logs contain the names of each White House visitor, the dates of their visits, and who requested they be cleared for entry.
“We hoped that the Trump administration would follow the precedent of the Obama administration and continue to release visitor logs, but unfortunately they have not.” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue.”
CREW, the National Security Archive and Knight First Amendment Institute requested two sets of records: the same records released by the Obama White House, and also for the private properties in Florida and New York in which the president has repeatedly conducted official business.
“President Obama routinely released the data we’re seeking with no damage to presidential privilege, and this information is central to the Secret Service mission and thus clearly agency records subject to FOIA,” National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said.
“We filed our first FOIA request for these logs on the Monday after the inauguration requesting information about a Mexican delegation that visited Obama,” said the Archive’s Kate Doyle. “When foreign officials go to see the president or his staff, the American people have a right to know who and when.”
Because the Secret Service has failed to respond to requests for records, the three organizations were left with no remedy under the FOIA statute except to sue.
“This is a case about the public’s right to know who wields influence over the most powerful office in our government,” said Knight’s Alex Abdo. “In our view, the Freedom of Information Act requires the government to make this information available to the public.”