WASHINGTON – A federal judge has rejected the Bush administration's attempt to shield records that may shed light on the White House visits of now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In several orders this week, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth sided with watchdog groups Judicial Watch and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which are suing the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security for access to the logs.
The administration in 2006 agreed to produce all responsive records about the visits "without redactions or claims of exemption." But it soon argued that the contents of certain "Sensitive Security Records," which are created in the course of conducting more extensive background checks on particular White House visitors, cannot be publicly revealed even though they could show some of Abramoff's visits.
Lamberth disagreed this week, saying those security records are not exempt under the federal Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that the information could promote criminal activity.
"The court is not convinced that the information plaintiff primarily seeks — the name of a visitor, the dates and times of his visits, and the person(s) visited — would allow even the most dedicated would-be criminal to discern what visitor characteristics trigger ... a security check," Lamberth wrote in one of the orders.
He also ordered DHS and the Secret Service to search visitor records that had been transferred to White House control.
To date, the government has turned over several Secret Service records referring to White House visits by Abramoff — at least six of them in the early months of the Bush administration in 2001 and a seventh in early 2004, just before Abramoff came under criminal investigation.
The White House has released little information about the visits, but none appears to involve a small group meeting with President Bush.