These days, avoiding political news is more difficult than avoiding the fat raindrops of a spring thunderstorm. Everywhere you look news stories concerning our current President, and his administration, are being broadcast to any and all who are interested. This very morning, governmental transparency became the most recent controversy for the news pundits to debate. Friday, the Trump Administration informed the country it would not be releasing the White House visitor logs, and as one would expect, arguments ensued. Trump advocates rushed to his defense and many others lined up to criticize. But, in an administration already accused of varying levels of opaqueness, should this decision come as a surprise?
In order to fully understand the decision to not release the White House visitor logs, the situation must be analyzed without partisanship or rhetoric. History, law, and the administrations own words will be good guides in reaching a logical conclusion as to whether visitors to the President should be publicly revealed.
Only one administration has made the White House visitor logs public during their term. The Obama White House, in an effort to improve government transparency, released White House visitor logs. Now, before we overly praise the previous administration, the logs released during President Obama’s term did have names removed for national security reasons and for what was termed “privacy exemptions.” This morning, on his radio program on SiriusXM, Michael Smerconish told of a trip to the White House where he was purposefully logged in as a visitor intending to meet with a different person than he actually was scheduled to visit. So, even though the American public was offered some transparency, it was not full transparency. All previous White House administrations did not publicly release White House visitor logs. Each citizen must decide if an edited list of the visitor logs is preferable to no information at all.
The most recent legal ruling is firmly on the side of the Trump Adminstration. Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s blocked nominee for the Supreme Court, ruled that White House visitor logs are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. So, as the law currently stands, the Trump Administration is well within their legal rights to keep the list private.
Trump Administration’s Rationale
The current administration gave two reasons for reversing from President Obama’s policy on visitor logs. Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, stated national security and privacy as the factors for keeping the list secret. On the privacy issue, Spicer expressed concern that certain people would be unwilling to bring information to the White House if they had to do so publicly. Spicer also took the oportunity to critique the Obama administration, arguing that the previous President’s claim of transparency was false owing to the efforts to keep certain visitors a secret.
Pros and Cons
President Trump certainly has the law and historical president on his side. But, the argument, ‘everyone else did it,’ should not be the sole reason for any policy. Greater transparency would certainly help educate and inform voters, thus strengthening the democratic process. However, if the transparency is only a perception and not reality, the situation could prove even more detrimental than honest opaqueness. What do you think? Should government officials be required to fully disclose their visitor logs even if it risks security or access to information? Or, do we trust our elected officials enough to allow them some latitude and secrecy? Comment below with your thoughts.