The gates of the White House are still open wide for invited guests. But the rest of us can’t know who they are anymore.
For nearly eight years, the White House visitor logs were open to the public, and President Barack Obama described the lists of who visited whom as a keystone of his legacy on open government.
Earlier in April, the Trump administration announced that making those lists public violated privacy and threatened national security — even though Obama’s lists already scrubbed the names of secret agents and such.
“The comings and goings of lobbyists and billionaires looking for tax breaks is not classified information,” said Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “That’s a complete farce.”
Painter is vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has joined other open government advocacy groups in suing Trump for access to visitor logs.
On Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer defended the decision and called the lists “faux” transparency.
Indeed, some names were dropped from the lists under Obama. Prince and Stevie Wonder gave a private concert in 2015 with no public record of their visits.
But here’s a sampling of what the public learned from the visitor logs, based on reporting from a variety of outlets that’s been collected by Alex Howard of the Sunlight Foundation:
A Democratic political consultant who resigned after he was linked to paid agitators disrupting Trump campaign rallies had visited the White House 340 times. (Breitbart News, 2016)
Two-thirds of Obama’s top fundraisers in 2008 visited the White House at least once in the next four years. (New York Times, 2012)
Lobbyist and former Obama campaign adviser Marshall Matz regularly escorted into the White House corporate executives, including the CEO of General Mills and Howard Hedstrom, a Grand Marais, Minn., lumber company owner, who said, “I appreciate Marshall’s ability to have access … he opened the door ….” (Washington Post, 2012)
The CEOs of Fortune 100 companies had nearly 1,000 appointments with Obama or his top advisers. (Reuters, 2015)
Google executives visited the White House 230 times before the administration reached a settlement on its antitrust investigation of the company. (Wall Street Journal, 2015)
Billy Tauzin, a former congressman turned pharmaceutical lobbyist, was one of the many White House visitors from the industry who helped cut a deal to support the Affordable Care Act in exchange for the president backing off efforts to reform the pharmaceutical business. (Huffington Post, 2010)
For the first few months, it looked as if Trump, who often criticized Obama for a lack of transparency, might keep posting the logs. The decision arrived April 14 in a statement from the White House. The administration also shut down the open government website for the logs.
“Given the complete inequity in terms of access to the White House, I would think at the minimum, the American people should have information about who’s coming and going,” Painter said.
For now, people who want to know who’s getting inside the White House will have to keep vigil at the fence. If the Secret Service doesn’t shoo them away.
Contact James Eli Shiffer at email@example.com or 612-673-4116.