With the nation and our allies around the world reeling from President Trump’s performance in Helsinki, attention has focused even more intently on what we already know about the President’s contacts with Russia. Twitter was abuzz today about a picture taken as Trump was preparing to meet in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on May 10, 2017. A red-haired woman stands in the background, prompting a rumor that she is recently indicted Russian operative Maria Butina.
In fact, it appears the woman is an NSC staffer, who just happens to bear a resemblance to Ms. Butina. Their shared hair color may be mere coincidence, but one thing is clear: if the public had access to White House visitor logs we would be able to confirm the identities of White House visitors that day and need not speculate about whether they included Ms. Butina. But when President Trump abandoned the practice of the Obama administration to make visitor logs publicly available he left us in the dark about who visits the White House and when.
Perhaps never before has this information been so critical. The question everyone is asking today is why President Trump appears to be siding with Vladimir Putin and Russia and ignoring what his own intelligence and law enforcement experts are telling him. Visitor logs would provide useful clues about the extent to which foreign interests have infiltrated our country and our president.
All this is why CREW and others have sued the Trump administration to compel the release of White House visitor logs. The White House response has been adamant and active resistance, even arguing that providing the public with this information would somehow intrude on the president’s constitutional powers. The Freedom of Information Act, however, exists precisely for moments like these, when our democracy is threatened from within and without and we question whether our president is acting in our best interests. As the Supreme Court has reminded us, the public’s knowledge of government action is “a structural necessity in a real democracy.” Nat’l Archives & Records Admin. v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 172 (2004). Yesterday’s events reminded us of just how necessary transparency is.