Steve Starr/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration on Friday appeared to rebuff efforts by watchdog groups to find out who visited the president at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, during the months following his inauguration.
In a federal lawsuit filed on April 10, 2017, government watchdog groups asked for the release of the Secret Service’s White House visitor logs covering Inauguration Day through March 8, along with records of presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The deadline for the government to “produce any non-exempt responsive records” was Friday, according to a court order by federal Judge Katherine Polk Failla.
Although Trump spent 14 days at Mar-a-Lago over four separate visits during the dates covered by this lawsuit, on Friday the administration only released a two-page document that included 22 names of people that visited the private club. All were part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s entourage, who visited the estate in February.
Explaining their refusal to release all visitor logs, lawyers for the Department of Justice wrote in court papers Friday that “[t]he remaining records that the Secret Service has processed in response to the Mar-a-Lago request contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the President’s schedules. The government believes that presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA.”
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, released a statement blasting the release.
“After waiting months for a response to our request for comprehensive visitor logs from the president’s multiple visits to Mar-a-Lago and having the government ask for a last minute extension, today we received 22 names from the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to Mar-a-Lago and nothing else,” Bookbinder said.
Abe’s assistant, van driver, head of protocol and butler were four of the 22 people who were listed alongside their job descriptions.
“The government does not believe that they need to release any further Mar-a-Lago visitor records. We vehemently disagree. The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court. This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court,” Bookbinder said.
The plaintiffs argued that unlike White House visitor logs, which before the Obama administration were traditionally kept secret until after a president left office, records of who visited the president at Mar-a-Lago are “agency records” subject to FOIA, a law requiring transparency. The administration had agreed to release some of these logs.
Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive and a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, wrote in an email to ABC News that the “government misled the plaintiffs and the court.”
“I can only conclude that the Trump White House intervened and overrode career lawyers,” Blanton wrote.
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