A private group sued the National Archives on Wednesday, seeking information about the Secret Service's suspension of its destruction of White House visitor records.

The Secret Service stopped the routine destruction of its White House visitor logs in October 2004 at the request of the National Archives.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is suing over the National Archives and Records Administration's refusal to disclose why it asked the Secret Service to start retaining its own copies of the White House visitor records.

The issue is important to the efforts of CREW and other private organizations to obtain logs of who visits the White House and who they see. Those efforts began a year ago amid the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

CREW and other organizations argue that the White House visitor logs are agency records of the Secret Service and are subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the midst of the Abramoff scandal, the White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement designating the logs as presidential records, which means they are to be released only at the president's discretion.

The question of whether the National Archives regards the visitor logs as agency or presidential records could become an important issue in pending court cases seeking access to the visitor logs.

In connection with the court cases, the Secret Service disclosed last year that its long-standing practice is to turn the visitor logs over to the White House and then to erase the records from the Secret Service's computer system.

The National Archives declined comment on the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.