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Trump White House can keep president’s visitors a secret, court rules

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  • The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals released a decision Monday upholding the Trump administration’s ability to withhold White House visitor logs.
  • In April 2017, the White House said it would stop releasing the names of the president’s guests. That prompted a lawsuit.
  • In its ruling, the court said that disclosing the names of visitors “would affect a president’s ability to receive unfettered, candid counsel from outside advisors and leaders, both domestic and foreign.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The identities of President Donald Trump’s visitors at the White House and his private resort, Mar-a-Lago, can remain under wraps, a federal court ruled Monday. 

In April 2017, the White House announced it would no longer release visitor logs, reversing an Obama administration policy to reveal the names of the president’s guests. While framed as a matter of national security, it also means lobbyists and donors can visit and potentially influence the president and federal policy without public disclosure.

In a May 18 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that’s just fine, ruling against an effort by transparency advocates to force the release of the names under the Freedom of Information Act. The ruling means the names will be kept under wraps for at least five years after Trump leaves office.

“Compelled disclosure of the visitor logs would affect a president’s ability to receive unfettered, candid counsel from outside advisors and leaders, both domestic and foreign, who were aware that their visits to the White House would be subject to public disclosure,” the court stated.

Justices were also not persuaded “that the term ‘agency record’ plainly applies to the visitor logs in this case.” The ruling upholds an earlier decision by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 2017, Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit that agitates for greater transparency in government, file a FOIA request for Trump’s visitors’ log, noting that the Secret Service keeps a log of them as part of its efforts to protect the president. The agency’s refusal to release the logs prompted litigation, during which the Secret Service divulged that it had no systems in place to screen visitors to Mar-a-Lago or Trump Tower.      

The National Security Archive was joined in the lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The organizations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Separate litigation in 2017 forced the White House to reveal visitors to certain executive offices, if not the president himself. Those records showed that Mick Mulvaney, who then served as director of the Office of Management and Budget and as the president’s acting chief of staff, met with casino magnate Steve Wynn, lobbyists for the Koch Industries, and a number of Wall Street executives.

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