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Watchdog group sues for access to White House visitor logs

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  1. Freedom of Information
Mere weeks after the White House began publishing select visitor logs online, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has sued…

Mere weeks after the White House began publishing select visitor logs online, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has sued the U.S. Secret Service for access to still-unreleased visitor logs under the Freedom of Information Act.

Before filing the complaint in a District of Columbia federal court Monday, Judicial Watch made multiple unfulfilled FOIA requests and conducted failed negotiations with the Obama administration over visitor logs from January 20 to August 10, 2009, according to the group’s release.

The Obama administration announced in September a new discretionary policy of voluntarily publishing the White House visitor logs on its Web site beginning Dec. 31. The move was made in response to lawsuits for visitor logs brought by another government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, against both the Bush and Obama administrations. The records Judicial Watch seeks, however, remain largely private.

Judicial Watch’s case will likely hinge on whether the visitor logs are considered “agency records” subject to FOIA, since the Obama administration — employing the same argument as the Bush administration — claims the records belong to the White House and are thus exempt. At least one federal judge, however, has rejected that argument.

The lawsuit comes after a series of negotiations between Judicial Watch and the Obama administration. The White House asked Judicial Watch to scale back its request during an Oct. 27 meeting with Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president. In a Nov. 30 followup letter, Eisen mentioned national security concerns as a rationale for withholding some visitor logs, an issue neither the Bush nor the Obama administration had previously cited, reported msnbc.com.

"The courts have affirmed that these White House visitor records are subject to release under FOIA law. If the Obama administration is serious about transparency, they will agree to the release of these records under the Freedom of Information Act," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a release.