Dec. 18, 2007 · The Department of Homeland Security has 20 days to turn over records created by the Secret Service that will show if and when conservative religious leaders visited the White House during the last seven years, a federal judge ruled on Monday.
The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued DHS after the agency rejected the nonprofit group’s Freedom of Information Act request for the records. The records include a variety of visitor logs maintained by the Secret Service, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security.
The group had specifically asked for records pertaining to alleged visits by conservative religious leaders James Dobson, Gary L. Bauer and Jerry Falwell, among others. Monday’s decision could also force the agency to comply with other pending requests by CREW for records related to White House visits by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates.
The Bush administration argued that the visitor-related documents were not “agency records” and therefore not subject to the FOIA’s disclosure provisions. Among other arguments, DHS noted that members of the president and vice president’s staff had contributed information to the records’ creation to an extent that had sufficiently disassociated the documents from the Secret Service and DHS.
Judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected this argument, finding that the agency did indeed create and control the records to a degree necessary to trigger the FOIA.
“While the Secret Service may be correct that Presidential and Vice-Presidential staff do at times provide much of the ‘information’ contained in these records, this fact does not, by itself, prove the Secret Service does not create these documents,” Lamberth wrote. “The FOIA deals with documents, not information.”
CREW attorney Anne L. Weismann welcomed the outcome, noting that the decision sends a message to the Bush administration officials that “they’re not above the law.”
“I think these efforts by an administration to manipulate the law, unchecked, have very serious consequences for us in terms of transparency and in trying to find out what is going on behind the closed doors of the White House,” Weismann said.
A spokeswoman for the Secret Service declined to comment on the case. Spokesmen for the White House and Justice Department told the Associated Press that administration lawyers were reviewing the decision.
(Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Media Counsel: Anne L. Weismann, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Washington, D.C.) — Scott Albright