Skip to content

White House continues arguing visitor logs are exempt records

Post categories

  1. Freedom of Information
The Obama administration is continuing to argue that White House visitor logs are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act,…

The Obama administration is continuing to argue that White House visitor logs are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, despite other district court holdings saying otherwise.

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch reports that the administration’s latest filing in a public-records lawsuit over the visitor logs argues they are not agency records.

The case began when Judicial Watch sought records for all White House visitors between January 20, 2009 and the present, under FOIA. In denying Judicial Watch’s request for the documents, the U.S. Secret Service — through the Department of Homeland Security — said that White House visitor logs fall under the Presidential Records Act and therefore are not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act because they do not originate with a federal agency.

In its initial complaint filed December 7, 2009, Judicial Watch noted that the Obama administration’s claim that the visitor logs are not agency records “has been litigated and rejected repeatedly” by the courts, although no appellate court has ruled squarely on the issue.

"The presidential communications privilege, as its name and the Circuit’s opinions suggest, extends only to communications," Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia ruled in a similar lawsuit. "The visit records sought by plaintiff need only consist of the visitor’s name, date and time of visit, and in some cases the name of the person requesting access for the visitor and in some cases the name of the person visited."

In the Obama administration’s latest filing, however, they claim that “the district court cases on which [Judicial Watch] relies for a contrary conclusion were incorrectly decided.” The government court filings also note the administration’s new discretionary release policy with respect to the visitor logs, and cite national security concerns as an additional reason for withholding the records.

"The Obama administration would undermine a key transparency law in order to keep White House visitor logs secret,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a release. “Only the Obama administration could offer to release pre-scrubbed White House visitor logs while withholding tens of thousands of other records and call it transparency."