As Concerns with Secrecy Mount, Senators Call on Trump to Release White House Visitor Logs
The President and the Secret Service should continue the previous administration's policy of releasing White House complex visitor logs so that the American people can know who is influencing their government, write Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and a group of Senators in a pair of letters sent Monday to President Donald Trump and the head of the Secret Service. Under the policy established by President Barack Obama, the White House and the Secret Service released visitor logs 90 to 120 days after they were created. Also, given the frequency of the President's visits to the Trump Organization's Mar-a-Lago Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, the Senators call on the Administration to extend the visitor log policy to the President's "Winter White House" and other locations where the President plans to conduct official business, like Trump Tower in New York City and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), also signed the letters.
Citing previous requests for information from the Trump White House that have gone unanswered, the Senators point to adoption of the Obama visitor log policy as a way to end the secrecy that has shrouded the Administration thus far. Failure, they write, would be yet another broken promise from the Trump campaign.
"It would be a significant setback to efforts to give the public insight into who influences the White House if this policy were to be discontinued or limited," the Senators write to the Secret Service. "Indeed, given the unique aspects of how President Trump has decided to conduct official business, we believe he needs to do even more just to meet the benchmark of transparency set by President Obama."
In the six weeks since taking the oath of office, Trump has already spent four weekends at Mar-a-Lago. Both the Administration and the Trump Organization have refused to reveal the list of members and guests who have access to the President while at the high-priced club, but news reports show executives of major businesses are able to gain frequent access to the President and his advisers. Membership at the club was recently doubled to $200,000.
"Regrettably, the cloak of secrecy seems to be falling over more and more parts of your Administration," the Senators write in the letter to Trump. "Efforts to confirm several of your more controversial cabinet nominees, and your nominee to the Supreme Court, have been spearheaded by so-called 'dark money' groups that have raised millions of dollars from undisclosed sources to spend on getting these nominees confirmed. As a result, the American people have no idea whether companies that stand to benefit from changes to federal policy are making a down-payment for those changes by secretly supporting your nominees. Continuing President Obama's transparency policies would help dispel concerns that the wealthy and the well-connected have unfair access to your White House."
Full text of the letters is below.
Dear President Trump:
It is now over one month into your Administration and you have yet to announce whether you will continue a policy of transparency with respect to individuals who visit the White House complex. The Obama Administration made White House visitor logs available on a regular basis. These logs provided the American public an unprecedented look at who was lobbying his Administration without compromising the President's ability to execute the functions of his office on a day-to-day basis. Under this policy, the logs were released 90 to 120 days after they were created. If you continue this policy, we should expect to see visitor logs from your White House as soon as April 20, 2017.
If you decide to stop or weaken this policy, it will be seen as yet another instance of you retreating from your campaign commitments to "drain the swamp." Some of us have already written to you raising concerns about transparency at your "Winter White House" at Mar-a-Lago. In a letter dated February 3, 2017, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Udall asked you to make the Mar-a-Lago membership and visitor lists public, and take steps to ensure no person would be have illegal or unsecured access to you when you are working there. Your Administration never responded to that letter, despite you having already made four trips to Mar-a-Lago since your inauguration. Subsequent events during these visits do not inspire confidence that you take transparency or security during these visits seriously.
Another group of Senators has asked your White House Counsel for more information about the role Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn is playing as your "special advisor" for cutting regulations. In a letter dated February 13, 2017, those Senators asked whether Mr. Icahn had provided any financial disclosures to your Administration, whether he would have special access to government information or policy-makers, and whether any he would be prohibited from providing advice in areas where he has obvious financial conflicts of interest. One way to provide assurances that your Administration is listening to the voices of all Americans, not just friends and donors who have a financial self-interest to influence government policy, is to let everyone know who is meeting with you and your staff. Your counsel never responded to that letter.
Regrettably, the cloak of secrecy seems to be falling over more and more parts of your Administration. Efforts to confirm several of your more controversial cabinet nominees, and your nominee to the Supreme Court, have been spearheaded by so-called "dark money" groups that have raised millions of dollars from undisclosed sources to spend on getting these nominees confirmed. As a result, the American people have no idea whether companies that stand to benefit from changes to federal policy are making a down-payment for those changes by secretly supporting your nominees. Continuing President Obama's transparency policies would help dispel concerns that the wealthy and the well-connected have unfair access to your White House.
Accordingly, we ask that you advise us of the following:Have you decided to continue the policy of releasing White House visitor logs to the public? If so, are you making any changes to that policy and why?
We see no reason why you would be unable to continue policies of your predecessor. And we urge you to extend those policies to address your decision to regularly conduct official business at private properties that also provide access to certain members of the public. We request the courtesy of any answer to these questions no later than March 15, 2017.
Dear Deputy Director Callahan:
We write for information on the continuation and potential extension of the policy of providing public access to visitor logs for the White House complex, and to request you commit to similar measures for Mar-a-Lago and other locations where the President regularly conducts official business. This policy, adopted to cover records starting in September 2009, is responsible for making public the names of nearly six million visitors to the White House. As of the date of this letter, the Trump Administration has not indicated whether it will continue this policy.
It would be a significant setback to efforts to give the public insight into who influences the White House if this policy were to be discontinued or limited. Indeed, given the unique aspects of how President Trump has decided to conduct official business, we believe he needs to do even more just to meet the benchmark of transparency set by President Obama. President Trump has already taken four trips to his so-called "Winter White House" at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, during which he conducted official business in full view of Mar-a-Lago members and their guests. During his transition, then President-elect Trump worked at the Trump Tower and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, two locations that are also open to certain members of the public. Recently released audio of one post-election visit to Bedminster captured then President-elect Trump inviting members to "come around" as he interviewed people to serve in his Administration.
President Trump's conduct of official business at private property to which some members of the public have access appears to be unprecedented in recent times. While we appreciate that every President has the right to some privacy when not in the White House, this President has invited members of the public, who in many cases have paid significant amounts of money for access to him, to watch official business be conducted and has in some cases sought their advice during these breaks from Washington. To help us understand what steps this Administration is doing to maintain transparency and ensure proper vetting of individuals with access to the President and his staff, we request answers to the following questions:What determination, if any, has been made to continue making White House visitor logs from the Workers and Visitors Entry System (WAVES) and the Access Control Records system (ACR) available to the public?
- If there is a plan to continue to make these records available, will the policy differ from President Obama's? If so, how and why?
- Are the WAVES and the ACR systems being used for Mar-a-Lago? If not, what other steps are being taken to conduct background checks people who will be present during President Trump's trips to Mar-a-Lago?
- Is the Secret Service considering extending these systems, or any other security screenings, for Trump Tower, Bedminster, or other Trump properties at which the President may spend time conducting official businesses? If not, why not?
- If security screening systems are being put in place outside the White House, who will be responsible for collecting and maintaining these records, what information will be collected, and where and in what format it will be stored? Will information from those systems be made available to the public? If so, will that information be disclosed under the same conditions as White House visitor logs in the Obama Administration?
We request the courtesy of any answer to these questions no later than March 15, 2017.
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