Earlier this year, three watchdog groups made a formal public-records request for all “presidential visitors” at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's busy Palm Beach social club where he has stayed seven times this year. When the government didn't respond, the groups sued.
On Friday, the U.S. government provided its official answer:
The list had just 22 names, all from the same group of visitors: a delegation of Japanese officials and assistants who accompanied Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a February stay at Trump's resort. The list included several high-ranking officials who might actually have met with the president: the Japanese national security adviser, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and a deputy foreign minister.
But it also included several visitors with less-glamorous roles, including the prime minister's butler and three luggage carriers. The list also included two men with non-Japanese names, who were described as van drivers. They were all contained in a single email from a U.S. State Department official to the Secret Service, asking them to allow these 22 people onto Mar-a-Lago grounds during Abe's visit.
Of course, that's not the full list of visitors to Mar-a-Lago.
Many hundreds of other people entered the club during the days when the president was there. They included club members: Initiation now costs $200,000. Nonmembers, who came for one of the charity galas in the club's ballrooms. Members' friends, who joined them on the dining terrace. Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping, who famously shared “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” (in Trump's words) with the president at the club while U.S. Navy ships were preparing to launch missiles at military installations in Syria.
None of those names were released.
The Justice Department, which responded to the request, said the government didn't have to give them.
“The remaining records [of visitors] contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the President’s schedules. The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to” a Freedom of Information Act request, said a letter from two top Justice Department officials, which the watchdog group released Friday.
The watchdog groups were already suing the Department of Homeland Security — which includes the Secret Service — for failure to release visitor logs at both the White House and Mar-a-Lago. Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it would ask a federal judge to compel the government to release more.
“This is nowhere near transparency,” Libowitz said. “This is an insult to people who expect … that the American people deserve to know who is meeting the president.” The other two groups are the Knight First Amendment Institute and the National Security Archive.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The Trump administration has not released any details about visitors to the White House.
The Obama administration did release its logs, after a series of lawsuits from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.