Knight Institute Sues for White House Visitor Logs

April 10, 2017
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NEW YORK — Today, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University joined Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive in suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for failing to disclose records of visits to the White House and to President Trump at his Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower residences. The Secret Service, which is part of DHS, maintains the White House’s visitor logs but has refused to turn them over in response to FOIA requests. The Institute filed the suit, Doyle v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the federal district court in New York.

Following four lawsuits by CREW, then–President Obama announced in September 2009 that the White House would post the visitor logs online every month, on a 90- to 120-day delay, with limited exceptions. The logs contain the names of each White House visitor, the dates of their visits, and who requested they be cleared for entry.

“This case is about the public’s right to know who wields influence over the most powerful office in our government,” said Alex Abdo of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “In our view, the Freedom of Information Act requires the government to make this information available to the public.”

CREW, the National Security Archive, and the Knight First Amendment Institute requested from DHS the same kinds of records released by the Obama White House, and also the visitor logs for the private properties in Florida and New York in which the president has repeatedly conducted official business.

This case is about the public’s right to know who wields influence over the most powerful office in our government.
Alex Abdo

“We hoped that the Trump administration would follow the precedent of the Obama administration and continue to release visitor logs, but unfortunately they have not.” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue.”

“President Obama routinely released the data we're seeking with no damage to presidential privilege, and this information is central to the Secret Service mission and thus clearly agency records subject to FOIA,” National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said.

“We filed our first FOIA request for these logs on the Monday after the inauguration requesting information about a Mexican delegation that visited Obama,” said the Archive’s Kate Doyle. “When foreign officials go to see the President or his staff, the American people have a right to know who and when.”

In addition to Abdo and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight Institute, lawyer Anne L. Weismann of CREW is filing the lawsuit.

The PDF of the complaint is here. The initial FOIA request is here. The Knight Institute's webpage for this lawsuit is here.

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.

For more information, contact the Knight Institute at (212) 854-9600.