- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2017

The White House said Friday it won’t make public the names of visitors to the White House complex, breaking with the practice of President Trump’s predecessor.

Senior White House officials confirmed that they won’t release visitor logs due to privacy and national security concerns, saying the move is consistent with previous administrations — except for President Obama’s.

White House Communications Director Michael Dubke cited “grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”

“The White House Office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court,” Mr. Dubke said.

But the Obama White House, after some litigation, posted the records of visitors online in a searchable database — nearly 6 million names in all. The previous administration deleted some names from the logs for national security and other reasons.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dubke said the Trump White House has been setting new standards of transparency.

“By instituting historic restrictions on lobbying to close the revolving door, expanding and elevating ethics within the White House Counsel’s office, and opening the White House press briefing room to media outlets that otherwise cannot gain access, the Trump administration has broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people,” Mr. Dubke said in a statement.

Government watchdog groups blasted the decision.

“The only reason to keep secret the White House visitor logs is to hide from the American public the corporate influence-peddlers who are seeking favors and gifts from the White House,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “More secrecy equals more cronyism, more insider dealing and more corruption.”

American Civil Liberties Union political director Faiz Shakir said citizens “deserve to see government business conducted in transparent daylight.”

“This ‘Good Friday’ news dump is simply the latest in a series of efforts by President Trump to avoid public accountability, and it’s not the way to improve the people’s declining trust in this administration,” he said. “Trump has bullied the press when they report on him. He has promoted the reporting of fake and outright false information. He imposed gags on federal employees in the earliest days of his administration. He has avoided disclosing his tax records, and he has avoided releasing information about his conflicts of interest. The only reasonable conclusion is to believe the Trump administration has many things it is trying to hide.”

Common Cause vice president Paul S. Ryan said the move “is just the latest example of a disturbing Trump administration pattern of withholding from the public information regarding everything from the president’s personal business dealings and tax returns to his late night White House visitors like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.”

David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, said the “only excuse for this policy is that the Trump administration has something to hide.”

“This kind of secrecy will allow big donors, lobbyists, and special interests to have unknown levels of influence in the White House. It’s the exact opposite of ‘draining the swamp,’” he said.

Administration officials said on condition of anonymity that although Mr. Obama’s administration “claimed to be transparent, it openly admitted to only disclosing White House visitor logs on a case by case basis, and went to great lengths to avoid disclosure.”

The cited a 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity that the visitor logs were missing the names of “thousands” of visitors to the White House including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, and friends of the first family. They also cited press reports that lobbyists “routinely had meetings just outside the White House at a nearby coffee shop to avoid being listed on logs.”

Trump officials said in a background statement that the Obama White House Counsel’s office “took sole custody of the log data from the Secret Service (which did not keep copies) before public release – making manipulation of the data entirely possible.”

They also said the Obama administration’s website “Open.WhiteHouse.gov” was duplicative, and that its contents will be incorporated on WhiteHouse.gov.

“This administration will not waste taxpayer dollars on duplicative sites,” the statement said. “The White House will not renew a contract for the site which will save taxpayers over $70,000 by 2020.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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