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White House Won’t Say If It Will Release Names of Visitors

The Obama administration begrudgingly gave up who came to visit the president, but the Trump team is noncommittal about being as transparent.

The White House on Tuesday would not say on whether it would continue the Obama administration’s practice of releasing the names of White House visitors that ethics groups say are crucial to government transparency.

"We're currently evaluating our procedures on that,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in response to a question on the visitor logs. “If we have an announcement I will let you know.”

A page on the White House’s website says that staff “will post records of White House visitors on an ongoing basis, once they become available.” That page has remained static for weeks.

Spicer’s brief statement, which came at the tail end of Tuesday’s press briefing, was the administration’s first public acknowledgment of calls by ethics groups and Senate Democrats to update and release a full accounting of White House visitors during the president’s first month in office.

Eight Senate Democrats signed a pair of letters addressed to the president and the Secret Service on Monday urging the release of those visitor logs.

“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 wrote.

Trump critics expect the records to reveal interactions that could fuel criticism of Trump’s alleged financial conflicts of interest.

“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,” the senators wrote.

The Obama White House agreed to release months of visitor records in Sept. 2009, seven months into his first term in office after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, sued to compel their release to compel their release.

Obama insisted that the eventual release of the records was voluntary in spite of those lawsuits. His administration later went to court to prevent the release of some White House visitor information.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s online database of White House visitors from 2009 to 2016 went dark in mid-February. The logs had not been updated since September.

Transparency advocates have urged the Trump administration to get back into the habit of regular visitor disclosures.

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“The White House visitor logs represented a meaningful window, if a flawed one, into what was happening at the White House,” according to Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation.

Howard said Sunlight hoped “that the Trump administration will see the value of open government data in the 21st century and continues the standard for disclosure set to date.”

In addition to visitor logs, the White House has yet to update pages on its website where it says visitors will be able to find staff salaries and waivers issued to administration officials exempting them from the ethics pledge imposed by a January executive order.

Both of those pages on the White House website also assure visitors that that information will be forthcoming.