After running on the claim that he’d make presidential records more available and after criticizing George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney for “secret meetings” in the White House because visitor logs were kept from public view, the Obama administration continued the Bush era practice of keeping White House visitor logs secret. Now a court has ordered that Obama release those logs.
A federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled on August 17 that the White House visitor logs maintained by the Secret Service should be open to public access. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell found that the visitor logs are Secret Service records and therefore do not fall under the president’s privilege. Therefore, the records are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA).
Interestingly, Judge Howell was appointed to the bench by Obama but still ruled against his attempts to keep his White House visitors a secret. Good for her for actually adjudicating on the law and not on politics for a change.
The suit was brought against the White House by Judicial Watch, a conservative Washington-based watchdog group. The suit aimed to reveal the visitor logs taken before Sept. of 2009 when the administration finally reversed its decision to continue the Bush era policy of keeping the logs secret.
Obama took a lot of flak even from his own side for his initial decision to keep the logs secret. After all, Obama ran on reversing what he claimed was Bush’s penchant for secrecy and lack of transparency, yet once he was fairly in office he decided to keep the secretive policy in place.
During his presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama made White House communications a central component of his transparency platform, regardless to whether the records held presidential or agency provenance. As part of his “plan to change Washington,” Obama criticized the Bush administration for crafting policy based on secret meetings. The campaign website remarked that “Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.” Further, the site stated that the Obama administration “will nullify the Bush attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.”
Obama finally bowed to pressure to put in place at least some transparency in his White House and in Sept. of 2009 reversed the practice of keeping those visitor logs secret.