Secret Service Logs of White House Visitors Are Public Records, Judge Rules
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
A federal judge ruled yesterday that White House visitor logs created by the Secret Service are public records, and he ordered information involving the visits of nine conservative Christian leaders with Bush administration officials to be released to an advocacy group.
The dispute involved an effort by the administration to keep secret the records, which have traditionally allowed the news media and Congress to keep tabs on who has visited the White House or the vice president's residence. Administration lawyers have taken the position that the logs are presidential records, outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth rejected this argument, saying the records qualify as "agency records" subject to disclosure. He also rejected the claim that the records should be kept secret to preserve the confidentiality of presidential and vice presidential deliberations, noting that even a Cheney aide testified that the purpose of the visits is not apparent from the documents.
"Knowledge of these visitors would not disclose presidential communications or shine a light on the President's or Vice President's policy deliberations," Lamberth wrote in his opinion.
Officials with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which sued to obtain the records, expressed satisfaction. "CREW is pleased that the judge saw through the White House's transparent attempts to hide public documents from the American people. We look forward to sharing the documents we obtain through this lawsuit," said Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
In an e-mail message, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "We are reviewing the decisions by the U.S. District Court in the cases and will discuss our options with counsel. As these issues remain in litigation, we will not comment further at this time."
In 2006, The Washington Post won a court order requiring Vice President Cheney's office to turn over visitor logs, but the order was blocked by an appellate court. During that litigation, it was revealed that the White House and the Secret Service had agreed to declare that such logs are not public records subject to disclosure.
The Post subsequently dropped the case, but CREW, interested in similar information, pursued its own lawsuit. Among the visitors whose names Lamberth ordered released yesterday were James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer.
Also yesterday, Lamberth agreed with another district judge, Rosemary M. Collyer, to consolidate in Lamberth's courtroom two other lawsuits involving White House records of visits by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In her order, Collyer said the cases would be joined under Lamberth because the case there, also involving Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is further along.