White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded during Monday’s press briefing to questions about why the Trump administration decided to keep its visitor logs secret rather than opting for more transparency.
Spicer, pressed by multiple reporters on the move, said the administration was “following the law.”
“As it was noted on Friday, we’re following the same policy that every administration from the beginning of time has used with respect to visitor logs,” Spicer said. “We will comply with both the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act as required by law.”
Spicer said it was not a “question of objecting” to the visitor logs being made public.
“It’s about following the law,” he said. “We’re following the law as both the presidential records act and the federal records act proscribes it.”
He said the Obama administration’s move to make the visitor logs public was a “faux attempt” at transparency, because the prior White House “would scrub whatever they didn’t want out.”
The White House announced Friday that it would not be releasing the logs. A split from the Obama administration, the decision came after months of speculation about what Trump’s administration would do with the records.
White House communications director Michael Dubke told Time the reversal was in the name of “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
The logs, which are maintained by the Secret Service, will be under wraps for at least five years after Trump leaves office. Trump officials made a point to note to Time that the Obama White House fought in court to keep elements of its logs, which were at times incomplete, redacted or withheld. Obama officials often took steps to get around the records, six million of which were voluntarily released by the administration, by meeting with individuals off the White House grounds, as Time noted.
Over the past few months, Spicer was pressed repeatedly about when the Trump administration would be publishing the visitor logs.
“We’re reviewing that now,” he told a reporter in late March.
“I think we should have an answer on our policy very shortly on that,” he said earlier this week when asked.
In March, a slew of Democratic lawmakers introduced the MAR-A-LAGO Act, which would require disclosure of the visitor logs at the White House and Trump properties where the president frequents for government business.
“This stunning decision from the Trump White House raises an obvious question: what is President Trump trying to hide?” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the lawmaker who introduced the legislation, said in a statement. “Once again, this administration is stonewalling information that Congress and the American people have a right to see.”
“Americans simply deserve to know who has access to the president and who is working to influence policy at the highest levels,” he continued. “The president brings unprecedented conflicts of interest to the White House, and he already has taken actions in office that suggest he is more concerned with helping people like him — the wealthy and well — connected — than he is with empowering ordinary Americans. By refusing to release the White House visitor logs, President Trump is confirming widespread concerns that the special interests are getting special treatment in this administration. The president’s promise to ‘drain the swamp’ has never rung more hollow than it does today.”
Last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the Department of Homeland Security — which is the department containing the Secret Service — for the visitor logs at the White House, Mar-a-Lago, and Trump Tower.
After news of the Trump administration’s decision broke, Bookbinder wrote “it looks like we’ll see them in court.”
“It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing the release the White House visitor logs that the American people have grown accustomed to accessing over the last six years and that provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president,” he said in a statement. “The Obama administration agreed to release the visitor logs in response to our lawsuits, and despite the Trump administration’s worry over ‘grave national security risks and concerns,’ only positives for the American people came out of them.”
Watch Spicer’s comments below:
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