Today’s announcement that the Trump administration will not release White House visitor logs is deeply troubling and strikes a blow against transparency. The White House should reverse the decision immediately.
As you know, after significant public and legal pressure, the administration of former President Barack Obama agreed to release regularly information regarding visitors to the White House. With limited exceptions, every month, the administration released the names of individuals who had visited the White House over the preceding ninety days.
The stated rationale for President Trump’s decision to reverse this policy—that releasing logs implicates “grave national security risks and privacy concerns”—is rebutted by experience: the Obama administration’s policy included exceptions to protect national security and privacy. Stripped of pretext, the Trump administration’s decision to withhold the logs from the public reveals a concerning aversion to transparency and accountability.
Transparency is a core principle of American government. As one of the first proponents of the Freedom of Information Act said over fifty years ago, “We must remove every barrier to information about – and understanding of – Government activities consistent with our security if the American public is to be adequately equipped to fulfill the ever more demanding role of responsible citizenship.” Or as Abraham Lincoln put it more succinctly, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”
President Trump has the opportunity to add to this important legacy. In his inaugural speech, he said, “What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Today’s decision to withhold visitor logs reduces the president’s statement to mere campaign rhetoric. By choosing secrecy over transparency, President Trump raises a fundamental question: how can Americans control the government if the president deliberately withholds information that our national understanding of how the people’s business is conducted?