"See you in court, Mr. President," a watchdog group warned on Friday, after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under pressure from a federal lawsuit, released just two pages of Mar-a-Lago visitor records, despite earlier promises to reveal the full list of visitors to President Donald Trump's so-called Winter White House.
"This is spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court."
—Noah Bookbinder, CREW"After waiting months for a response to our request for comprehensive visitor logs from the president's multiple visits to Mar-a-Lago and having the government ask for a last minute extension, today we received 22 names from the Japanese prime minister's visit to Mar-a-Lago, and nothing else," said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
Bookbinder's group shared the short visitor list on Twitter:
After getting an extension to process the Mar-a-Lago visitor records, the government turned over these 22 names from the Japanese delegation pic.twitter.com/9ntKUtaVQT— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) September 15, 2017
CREW, joined by the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, had filed a federal lawsuit in April after Secret Service spent months refusing to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for visitor logs from the White House as well as the president's Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower residences.
The groups charge, as Common Dreams previously reported, that "the public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff."
And, as a New York Times analyis has shown, the president often conducts official business at his various properties—particularly Mar-a-Lago, which is located in Palm Beach, Florida. Since entering office in January, the Times reports that Trump has spent at least 25 days at his Winter White House.
Though DHS claims it has no visitor records for Trump Tower, the groups that filed suit celebrated in July when the administration agreed to release Mar-a-Lago visitor logs by September 8, 2017, with the expectation that CREW would share the information with the public.
However, after requesting more time to handle the request, the Trump administration on Friday released only a list of 22 visitors from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's Mar-a-Lago meeting with the president, and claimed that all other records were exempt from the FOIA requests.
Following the limited release, all three watchdog groups condemned the administration's action and vowed to continue their court battles.
"The government seriously misrepresented their intetions to both us and the court," CREW's Bookbinder said. "This is spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court."
Echoing Bookbinder's charges, National Security Archive director Tom Blanton said: "The government misled the plaintiffs and the court," and "I can only conclude that the Trump White House intervened and overrode career lawyers."
Blanton's group has submitted new FOIA requests to the Secret Service for visitor logs from five of the president's golf clubs—where lobbyists and top executives may be gaining access to the president—that he visited through August.
"The Secret Service's job vetting who visits the president doesn't end when Trump goes golfing or visits one of his properties," Blanton added. "And the public has a right to know who lobbies the President, whether it's at the White House or the 'Winter White House' or the 18th hole."
"The public has a right to know who holds influence over the the president and his staff," the Knight First Amendment Institute tweeted. "We'll keep fighting."