Watchdog groups are claiming victory on Monday after the Trump administration said it would release the visitor logs for Mar-a-Lago, the resort estate the president owns in Florida and which he dubbed the “Winter White House” after facing a lawsuit.
Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), the non-profit National Security Archive, and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in April sued the administration for records of the logs at the resort, as well as those for the White House and Trump Tower residences.
Their suit said that Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has control over the records, had refused to turn them over in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The suit also pointed to a letter sent the previous month by a group of senators who similarly demanded the release of the records, writing “the cloak of secrecy seems to be falling over more and more parts of your Administration.”
A statement from the groups says DHS will turn over the logs for Mar-a-lago, and that CREW would then publicly release them by September 8th.
“The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said. “We are glad that as a result of this case, this information will become public for meetings at his his personal residences—but it needs to be public for meetings at the White House as well.”
Even with the Mar-a-Lago records obtained, it may not be clear who’s using the resort to potentially wield influence on the White House.
“It’s a promising first step that the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to release information on Mar-a-Lago’s visitors, but what might be in these disclosures is a mystery,” said Alex Abdo, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute.
Here’s why: as Politico explains, the private club
doesn’t log its guests, even when the president is visiting the South Florida seaside club. Unlike entry into the White House, getting into Mar-a-Lago doesn’t require a comprehensive background check or a weapon screening. Members of the private club do frequently submit guests’ names to the front desk for informal visits and events, but that process doesn’t require personal details such as a birth date or Social Security number. There’s also no official check-in procedure for guests entering Mar-a-Lago.
“In our view,” Abdo continued, “the Freedom of Information Act requires the government to make this information—which relates to who exerts influence over the president—available to the public, and we intend to fight for its release.”
President Barack Obama began releasing, with some exceptions, White House visitor logs in 2009 in response to four lawsuits brought by CREW. He said in announcing the policy: “Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process.”
The lawsuit for the release of White House visitor logs is ongoing, but DHS says it has no records of visitors at Trump Tower.