Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the Obama administration and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) settled four ongoing cases regarding public access to White House visitor records. The most significant development, however, is the commitment by the Obama administration to affirmatively post visitor records online on an ongoing basis, bringing a historic level of transparency to the White House.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan praised the White House, stating, “The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise. The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House. In contrast, the Obama administration – by putting visitor records on the White House web site – will have the most open White House in history. Because visitor records will now be available online, CREW dismissed its lawsuits.” Sloan continued, “Providing public access to visitor records is an important step in restoring transparency and accountability to our government. CREW is proud to have been part of this historic decision.”
Yesterday’s agreement stems from lawsuits CREW filed after the Bush and later the Obama administration refused to provide White House visitor records in response to CREW’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Visitor records are created by the Secret Service as part of its statutory responsibility to protect the president, vice president, their residences, and the White House generally.
In lawsuits for records of visits by Christian conservative leaders and lobbyist Stephen Payne, the Bush administration argued the records were presidential records, not agency records of the Secret Service, and therefore exempt from the FOIA’s mandatory disclosure requirements. U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth disagreed, ruling twice that the records are subject to the FOIA and not within any of the claimed exemptions. The government appealed those decisions to the District of Columbia Circuit Court.
After President Obama took office, CREW sought records of visits to the White House by health care and coal executives to determine the degree of their influence on health care and energy legislative proposals. The government initially refused to turn over these records, but now has agreed to produce them, as well as the Bush era records, as part of the settlement. In turn, CREW has agreed to dismiss all the pending litigation.
Read a full summary of the records here and here, the health care visitor records, the Stephen Payne records, the religious leaders records, the Department of Justice’s settlement letter to CREW, WH Counsel Gregory Craig’s letter to Anne Weismann and the White House’s Voluntary Disclosure Policy.