Friday, September 4, 2009
The White House announced today that it would publicly release records of White House visitors each month. The announcement reflects the administration's settlement agreement in four Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cases brought by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a legal advocacy organization that promotes ethics and accountability in government. CREW's press release is here; the NYT Caucus blog reports here.
CREW brought the cases after the Bush and Obama administrations declined to turn over White House visitor records in response to CREW's FOIA requests. The administrations claimed that the records were presidential records covered by the Presidential Records Act, not agency records covered by FOIA, and therefore remain under the legal custody and control of the White House and the Office of the Vice President.
In addition, the administrations claimed that disclosing some or all of the records could reveal information protected by the presidential communications privilege. (See United States v. Nixon and Nixon v. Administrator of General Services.)
In settling the suits, the administration did not back off these legal claims, characterizing the reports' release as "voluntary" and "discretionary."
Both the White House and CREW touted the agreement as an historic increase in government transparency.