Trump administration still won’t release Mar-a-Lago visitor logs

Secret Service officials say they have "no system for keeping track of Presidential visitors" at the winter White House.

Credit: (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Credit: (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

According to a report by Politico on Thursday, there are no visitor logs for President Donald Trump’s “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago.

“The…search and review of records confirmed that there is no system for keeping track of Presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago, as there is at the White House Complex,” Special Agent Kim Campbell wrote to Politico. “Specifically, it was determined that there is no grouping, listing or set of records that would reflect Presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago.”

The Secret Service acknowledges it has presidential schedules that could illuminate who the president has met with while at his resort, however government lawyers argue those schedules are presidential records that aren’t covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and therefore cannot be made available to the public.

Government watchdog group Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been pursuing these Mar-a-Lago records for months. The organization released a statement Thursday expressing their surprise that these records don’t even exist.

“From the outset, the government represented to us and the court that while they would fight the release of White House visitor records, they would produce records of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago, and their representations and the length of time they requested sent the clear signal that there would be far more than the 22 names we received,” said CREW Director Noah Bookbinder. “So we were surprised and disappointed that they reneged, now claiming, ‘it was determined that there is no grouping, listing, or set of records that would reflect Presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago.’”

Bookbinder also added that everyone from lobbyists to foreign agents can buy secret access to the president without any record of their attendance, calling it “terrifying.”

CREW announced in July that a court had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to turn over Mar-a-Lago’s visitor logs to the organization for review — a win for transparency in an administration that is seen as extremely private in it’s operations. CREW said it would make the logs public as soon as its staff received them on September 8.

“The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement at the time. “We are glad that as a result of this case, this information will become public for meetings at his personal residences—but it needs to be public for meetings at the White House as well.”

Government lawyers later pushed the deadline back one week to September 15. When the administration eventually handed over the logs on September 15, however, they only included 22 names of foreign dignitaries and staffers related to a trip the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made to Mar-a-Lago in February.

The Justice Department, in a letter to CREW and the two other watchdog groups that requested the visitor logs, said the remaining records would be withheld from the public.

“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 the attorneys for the Justice Department. “The government believes that presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA.”

Government watchdog groups like CREW have long been pushing for the release of this information over concerns that individuals who visit Mar-a-Lago, a membership-based private club, could influence Trump with their access. But a failure of transparency isn’t isolated to Mar-a-Lago: in April, the White House announced it would not follow the previous administration’s policy of providing the names of visitors to the White House executive complex, despite announcing before the inauguration that the administration planned to update the visitor log.

“There is exactly one reason the Trump administration aims to keep secret the names of the people visiting the White House: It wants to keep the public in the dark about the corporate takeover of the government,” the president of watchdog group Public Citizen, Robert Weissman, said in a statement. “Even so, the Trump White House’s refusal to turn over visitor logs that it knows it is legally obligated to release is particularly shameful, even by the standards of this administration.”