The White House was defeated yet again Friday in its attempt to block the release of visitor logs under the Freedom of Information Act.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has been seeking the White House visitor logs since 2006 in a case that has already been to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and is now back at the trial court. The Bush Administration initially said the visitor logs weren’t subject to FOIA and, when they lost that argument, refused to release the logs on the grounds the presidential communications privilege applied.
But Friday, the U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth ruled against the administration.
“Shielding such general information as the identities of visitors would ‘considerably undermine the purposes of FOIA to foster openness and accountability in government,’” he said. “That damage would be incurred in exchange for a negligible increase in White House confidentiality (of a type which . . . has not heretofore been considered within the bounds of the presidential communications privilege).”
Lamberth also concluded that the Department of Homeland Security violated the Federal Records Act when it deleted copies of the visitor logs from its computer systems regularly prior to June 2006 and failed to retain similar records from another computer system prior to October 2004.
Lamberth then ordered the National Archives to request the Attorney General initiate legal action to recover the records deleted prior to October 2004.
“CREW’s victory today reaffirms the public’s right to know what the government is doing,” CREW’s attorney, Anne Weismann, said in a press release. “We are pleased that the judicial branch has ripped the cloak of secrecy away from the White House and we hope the incoming administration takes heed of the court’s decision and ensures Secret Service records are available to the public."