President Obama came into office promising the most transparent administration in history, and left office after setting multiple records resisting the faithful fulfillment of Freedom of Information requests.
One thing you can say about President Trump, I guess, is that at least he didn't make any promises.
The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.
The decision, after nearly three months of speculation about the fate of the records, marks a dramatic from the Obama Administration's voluntary disclosure of more than 6 million records during his presidency. The U.S. Secret Service maintains the logs, formally known as the Workers and Visitors Entry System, for the purpose of determining who can access to the 18-acre complex.
White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually." Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are "presidential records" and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Yes, I'm aware that President Obama made this possible by litigating the issue. I'm also aware that there are certain situations where discretion is appropriate — for example, if a president wants to interview a potential nominee or receive information from a whistleblower or something along those lines — where a president should be able to meet with someone in secret.
This is still a bad idea, and Congress should at least try to stop Trump from doing this.
The anonymous White House official that Time cites defending the policy even makes a valid point in saying that by revealing only some of the names of people who visited the White House, Obama merely created an appearance of transparency:
The Obama-era process allowed the White House Counsel's office to unilaterally redact records of those visiting the complex for any reason. The Obama Administration, for instance, took a wide-ranging view of what were considered personal events hosted by the Obamas, leaving off celebrity sightings and meetings with top donors. It also maintained the right to leave off those brought in for sensitive meetings, like interviews for federal judicial nominations. Obama-era officials took other steps to circumvent the logs, scheduling meetings with lobbyists and others at nearby coffee shops.... "It did create more of a façade of transparency rather than complete transparency," said one White House official.
Even so, despite the fact that the Obama-era logs are partly sham, they do at least contain some real and potentially useful information. They told us about some of the business meetings that President Obama held, and we don't have to wait five years to find out about them. During his presidency, even, we could see how many times he had met with representatives of the various special interests that own the Democratic Party — trial lawyers, union leaders, environmentalists, etc.
Trump is now simply blocking out everyone, and it's going to make future presidents from both parties feel that much freer to do the same. In the long run, government transparency works in everyone's favor, and it would be short-sighted to overlook that now.