White House blocks access to visitor list

In a move that puts a cloud over transparency, the Obama White House is trying to block access to the lists of the names of visitors to the White House. The practice, carried over from the Bush administration, argues the public does not need to know who comes calling at the Executive mansion, even if it’s for policy purposes.

"We are deeply disappointed," said CREW spokeswoman Anne Weismann. "The President, who has committed his administration to transparency and accountability, now takes the position of the Bush administration that the public is not entitled to know who visits the White House. These are not the actions of a pro-transparency administration."

The request for the records, made by CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) was denied by the Secret Service. CREW was requesting a list with logs of executives from coal companies. MSNBC was also denied a FOIA request asking for a list of every White House visitor from January 20 until present.

CREW received a letter from Secret Service saying they were unable to provide the records due to litigation pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The letter goes on to say, "It is the government’s position that the vast majority, if not all, of the records that would have to be searched to determine whether any records responsive to your request exist are not agency records subject to FOIA."

For its part, the Obama administration says the policy is still under review. "We are reviewing our policy on access to visitor logs and related litigation involving the previous administration to determine how we can ensure that policymaking in this administration happens in an open and transparent way," said White House Spokesman Ben LaBolt.

Groups like CREW argue it’s important to know the names of White House visitors because the people visiting could have a huge impact on all sorts of policy matters. The logs have been released before, in isolated cases, including the records of the visits of Jack Abramoff to the Bush White House and those involved in "filegate" in the Clinton White House.