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White House ordered to produce visitor records

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  1. Freedom of Information
A federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., today, gave the Department of Homeland Security and its agency, the Secret Service,…

A federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., today, gave the Department of Homeland Security and its agency, the Secret Service, 20 days to turn over White House visitor log records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

This is the second time a district court has ruled against the government on the issue of whether documents created by an executive agency, but pertaining to the vice president and president, are subject to the FOIA.

In this case, Judge Royce C. Lamberth found that the Secret Service had "created or obtained" the vistor records requested by CREW and that the records were under the "control" of the agency, necessary requirements under FOIA case law in determining whether documents are subject to public disclosure. 

The plaintiff CREW sought all records in the Secret Service’s possession on nine individuals, which the organization described as prominent "conservative Christian leaders" who had visited the White House or the vice president’s residence.  The government asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because it said the records were outside the bounds of the FOIA, and instead were properly withheld as possessions of the offices of the president and vice president. 

Lamberth dismissed constitutional avoidance and separation of powers concerns raised by the government, finding nothing ambigous about the FOIA’s duty of disclosure.  This decision, coupled with Judge Ricardo M. Urbina’s decision a year ago, which also found the visitor logs subject to FOIA, serves as a clear admonition against overly broad claims of executive privilege.