WASHINGTON – A government transparency group vowed Friday to continue a court battle to open up visitor logs at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, after the administration provided only the names of Japanese staff who attended a February visit from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of three government transparency groups that sued the Department of Homeland Security for the information, obtained and released the records Friday.
The Justice Department said in a letter to CREW that the records were responsive to the group's request.
"The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court," CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. "This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court."
The dispute centers on what kind of records related to private individuals visiting the president should be open to public inspection.
The refusal to disclose the full list of presidential visitors' names also brings renewed scrutiny to the president's private business empire and raises questions about why the administration would want to withhold information that could reveal possible conflicts of interest.
CREW and other ethics groups have criticized Trump for not divesting his business holdings — including Mar-a-Lago and other properties he visits — saying that they provide an avenue for those seeking influence to curry the president's favor.
An attorney for Trump, Sherri Dillon, said in January that a new ethics adviser and compliance counsel at the Trump Organization, which the president's two older sons are now running, would address the appearance of conflicts.
Trump's visits to Mar-a-Lago raised national security concerns in February, after photos emerged that showed the president conferring with aides and Japanese officials in the club's dining room, in view of patrons, after a North Korean missile test.
The episode prompted a review by the Government Accountability Office of security and government spending at the club, according to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who requested the probe.
Federal law exempts the White House from the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, which requires public disclosure of government documents. But CREW and its partners argued that because the presidential visitor records are typically maintained by the Secret Service — which is part of the Department of Homeland Security — they should not be exempt from release.
In July, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the Trump administration to release the "records of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago" by September.
In a letter accompanying Friday's release, the Justice Department said that other records existed but were not subject to disclosure.
"The 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," wrote Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, and Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Mar-a-Lago doubled its membership fee to $200,000 in January, the same month Trump was inaugurated. More recently, several charities have pulled out of events at the resort amid Trump's sliding approval rating and inflammatory statements.
CREW, the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute sued DHS in April for the Mar-a-Lago records — as well as visitor logs for the White House and Trump Tower — after Trump said he wouldn't release the lists.
Former President Barack Obama also refused requests for White House logs until CREW sued his administration. The government then released them with a delay.
Litigation over Trump's White House records is ongoing. DHS has said that it doesn't have records for Trump's New York home, according to CREW.
The New York Times contributed to this report.