The White House's secret visitors
By Tom Fitton
Published: Saturday, July 21, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
In September 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would post some White House visitor log information on the White House website. However, except in narrow circumstances, records from January 20, 2009, though September 15, 2009, were to be kept secret.
This constitutes tens of thousands of records. The White House did not explain why visitor logs from its first eight months were afforded special protection or why voluntary disclosure was any substitute for release of the records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The disclosure policy was, essentially, to release White House visitor records unless the Obama White House did not want to release visitor records.
Responding to this mockery of the law, Judicial Watch specifically asked the Secret Service for those logs. Predictably, the request was denied. Judicial Watch then issued a press release that highlighted the denial and warned of a lawsuit.
That's when things got interesting.
In October 2009, one of our investigators received a call from a White House lawyer who wanted to express some concern about the accuracy of our press statement. He invited us to a meeting at the White House.
I am convinced that the White House thought we'd be intimidated by getting such a phone call, although we saw through the tactic and happily accepted the invitation.
On Oct. 21, 2009, my Judicial Watch colleagues and I met with senior White House officials led by Norm Eisen. During the meeting, Eisen offered to make some superficial accommodations to us on the visitor logs issue and encouraged us to publicly praise the Obama administration's commitment to transparency. We were told that the White House would praise us in return.
We shook hands at the end of the meeting, but the Obama White House refused to abandon its legally indefensible contention that the visitors logs are not subject to FOIA.
In a Nov. 30, 2009, follow-up letter, Eisen reiterated the Obama administration's position. Judicial Watch filed suit.
The courts repeatedly have ruled that White House visitor records belong to the Secret Service and, therefore, should be available under FOIA. This is a battle we have already fought and won years ago. No special exceptions exist. Remarkably, the Obama Justice Department did not dispute the fact that the courts are not on their side in this issue. Obama's lawyers simply said that every judge who had looked at the issue is wrong.
The White House's “voluntary disclosure policy” is not only arbitrary, it is extremely slow. The policy includes a huge national security exception, a huge personal guests exception and a sensitive meetings exception — none of which has a basis in FOIA law. As of this writing, the White House still has not released the visitors records. Currently, records of “recent” visits are released between 90 and 120 days of a visit.
So if you want to know who is visiting the White House this week, you can find out after Election Day. A president who doesn't want you to know who is visiting him in the White House is one who doesn't want to be accountable to the American people. As you might guess, we haven't been invited back to the Obama White House.
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch and author of the upcoming book “The Corruption Chronicles” due out on Tuesday from Simon & Schuster's Threshold Editions. This column is drawn from the book.
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