Written by Tom Fitton
Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit against Obama Administration to Obtain White House Visitor Logs
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Obama White House recently voluntarily released a select number of White House visitor logs to the public (amounting to only hundreds out of the hundreds of thousands of people who have actually visited the White House.)
In our view this partial release is not close to good enough, especially given that the few records released are incomplete and do not provide so much as a city or an organization represented for the individuals listed.
Moreover, the vast majority of the White House logs continue to be withheld in defiance of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In fact the Obama administration's position is that these records are not even subject to FOIA.
And so for this reason, we filed a lawsuit this week against the U.S. Secret Service for denying Judicial Watch's FOIA request for access to all Obama White House visitor logs from January 20 to August 10, 2009. Here's some coverage of our lawsuit from MSNBC:
The nonprofit conservative group Judicial Watch has sued the U.S. Secret Service after the Obama administration again denied a request for copies of the list of visitors to the White House.
The records are being sought by journalists and public interest groups to help determine who is influencing White House policy on health care, the economy and a host of other issues.
Under the Obama policy, most of the names of visitors from Inauguration Day in January through the end of September will never be released. After the Secret Service and the White House denied a request for those records, Judicial Watch filed suit on Monday in federal court in Washington.
The Obama administration, for its part, continues to advance the ridiculous claim that the visitor logs are not agency records and are therefore not subject to FOIA. As Judicial Watch noted in its complaint, this claim "has been litigated and rejected repeatedly" by federal courts:
Since [Judicial Watch] sent its...FOIA request to the Secret Service, the White House has released certain visitor records voluntarily, pursuant to its discretionary release policy. The White House's voluntary production of a portion of the requested records, however, does not satisfy the Secret Service's statutory obligation to produce any and all nonexempt records responsive to Judicial Watch's request. Nor does it remedy the Secret Service's claim, contrary to well established case law, that the requested records are not agency records subject to FOIA.
Now here's a little bit of background regarding our battle with the Obama White House over these records that I know you'll find interesting.
As you may recall, Judicial Watch criticized the Obama administration over its position on the White House logs in a press release on October 16. Well, the following week, a White House lawyer called Judicial Watch to set up a meeting with "senior White House officials." Our release obviously caught their eye.
And so on October 27, my colleagues and I traveled over to the White House complex to meet with White House officials led by Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government, to discuss Judicial Watch's pursuit of the White House visitor logs, as well as other transparency and ethics issues. (Judicial Watch's Director of Litigation Paul Orfanedes, Director of Research and Investigations Chris Farrell and Program Manager Tegan Millspaw joined me for the visit.)
During our meeting, Obama White House officials asked Judicial Watch to scale back its request. They also wanted Judicial Watch to publicly praise the Obama administration's commitment to transparency. However, at the same time, the White House refused to abandon its legally indefensible line of reasoning that White House visitor logs are not subject to FOIA law!
As it turned out, this White House meeting was an obvious attempt to push us to drop our criticism of and opposition to the Obama White House over their year-long pattern of secrecy and obfuscation!
But the fact that the Obama White House met with us is very important. The Obama White House understands that Judicial Watch is the nation's top government watchdog group.
That acknowledgement by the Obama administration is a real tribute to you and our other supporters.
Meanwhile, in a November 30 follow-up letter, Mr. Eisen reiterated the Obama administration's legal position and, citing national security concerns, requested that Judicial Watch "focus and narrow [its] request."
Well, the Obama team's pressure didn't work...and you can count on us to keep fighting Obama secrecy. We filed a lawsuit instead.
As I said in press statements following the announcement of this lawsuit, the courts have affirmed that these White House visitor records are subject to release under FOIA law. And if the Obama administration is serious about transparency, they will agree to the release of these records under FOIA. If we learned anything from the recent "party crasher" scandal at the White House, there is great need for transparency under law when it comes to who visits the White House.
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation's public life.