The White House will keep most of its visitor logs secret, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News Friday.The decision comes after months of questions about the fate of the Obama-era precedent of releasing White House visitor logs and marks another stark contrast between the administrations. The Obama administration voluntarily disclosed more than 6 million records during his years in office.
The transparency surrounding the White House visitor logs during the Obama administration was far from perfect, but it was nevertheless a breakthrough in transparency. From 2010 through 2016, the Obama White House voluntarily disclosed the names of millions of visitors, publishing the information online for anyone to see.On Inauguration Day 2017, the conservative Washington Times said that the Trump administration was poised to "keep releasing the records of those who visit the White House, continuing an Obama administration transparency policy that gave Americans an unprecedented look at the comings and goings through the powerful complex."Three months later, Team Trump -- which waited until the afternoon of Good Friday, ahead of a holiday weekend, to make the announcement -- decided to scrap the Obama-era transparency.
The White House issued a statement saying the decision was necessary in light of "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually." How would transparency worsen "national security risks"? No one knows; the White House didn't say. In fact, there's no evidence that the Obama-era policy undermined security in any way.It's worth emphasizing that the Trump White House's logs won't be shrouded in complete secrecy. A Washington Post report added that the Trump administration intends to release information under limited circumstances: "when Freedom of Information Act requests are filed for those visiting offices of the White House classified under the law as separate agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget."The White House website that existed in the Obama era to show the public the visitor logs will be scrapped altogether.There are, of course, a few problematic angles to this. The most obvious is Trump's brazen hypocrisy, for which there is no credible excuse. For years, Trump whined incessantly about Obama's commitment to transparency -- he called the Democrat "the least transparent president ever," in part because Trump wanted to see his college transcripts -- and insisted that Obama had something to hide.Now, the first modern president to hide his tax returns is also hiding his visitor logs -- which makes it seem as if Trump has something to hide. This follows a campaign in which Trump complained about Hillary Clinton's lack of transparency, despite setting new standards for secrecy.Making matters slightly worse, Team Trump's press statement today made a spirited case that the Obama White House wasn't as transparent as perceived. There may be some truth to that, but it's bizarre to have Trump administration make the argument this way. In effect, Trump's White House is saying, "Look at all the secretive things Obama's team did -- which we're now going to do, too, but in a less transparent way."Finally, the legality of the new policy is in doubt. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in a statement, "The Obama administration agreed to release the visitor logs in response to our lawsuits, and despite the Trump administration's worry over 'grave national security risks and concerns,' only positives for the American people came out of them. This week, we sued the Trump administration to make sure they would continue to release the logs. It looks like we'll see them in court."