White House shifts from Obama practice, will keep its visitor logs secret

Good lord. How do you govern with a message about “draining the swamp” while trying to avoid basic transparency about whom the president is meeting with?

And how do you do it after having tweeted stuff like this?


Now we won’t get to know which Goldman Sachs lobbyists are meeting with the president. Although maybe that’s not such a big deal now that Goldman Sachs is running the government. More from Time magazine:

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.

Three White House officials said they expect criticism of the new policy, but believe it is necessary to preserve the ability of the president to seek advice from whomever he wants, “with some discretion.”

Ethics watchdog CREW is already out with a statement this afternoon vowing that they’ll see Trump in court. There’s the problem, though: The White House under Obama has already fought this battle in court, and won. Disclosure of the logs is purely voluntarily by the president. Because of that, Time notes, Obama was able to carve out as many exceptions to disclosure as he liked, for whatever reason he liked — visitors involved in “sensitive” meetings could be omitted, personal guests (a.k.a. big-money political donors) could be omitted, and if all else failed, staffers could simply take visitors across the street to the coffee shop and meet with them there, bypassing the need to record their visit in the logs in the first place. All of which makes it odd that Trump is discontinuing the practice of disclosing them. Why not just follow Obama’s lead in promising to make the logs public and then turn them into swiss cheese with all sorts of inconvenient names omitted?

On the other hand, it feels silly to complain about unaccountability in the form of undisclosed logs when Trump, more so than virtually any other president in American history, has all sorts of other ways to avoid accountability in who he meets with. Mar-a-Lago doesn’t keep visitor logs and he’s there every other weekend, including this one; if he wanted face time with a “sensitive” guest, he’d simply arrange a meeting there. Or he’d deputize someone in the West Wing to meet with the guest at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., Trump Tower in New York, or some other Trump-branded property where he could have higher-than-usual confidence that his guest and his emissary aren’t being eavesdropped on. Or, of course, he could skip in-person meetings entirely and opt for virtual face time with the camera-phone technology of his choice. Demanding that Trump disclose the logs is a bit like demanding that he separate himself completely from his businesses: It’s the ethical thing to do, but even if he makes a gesture towards compliance, you know he’s going to exploit loopholes. And voters knew it when they elected him.