Obama to post White House visitor logs on the Internet

September 4, 2009

Killjoy.

After early signs he might follow the lead of other presidents and keep his White House visitor logs secret, Barack Obama has decided instead he’s going to post them on the Internet.

This, of course, jeopardizes the popular Washington sport of going to court to find out who’s getting face time with the president.

It’s a hallowed tradition observed over many administrations.

OBAMA/President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney waged a valiant struggle to keep their logs secret from groups wanting to know such things as who was influencing energy policy or how much access corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff was given.

Visitor logs were used to track the comings and goings of White House intern Monica Lewinsky during Bill Clinton’s presidency. And they provided fodder for the Whitewater and influence peddling investigations involving Clinton.

Even Obama, who promised transparency during his election campaign, had been battling lawsuits over the visitor logs before announcing Friday he was giving up the fight.

“For the first time in history, records of White House visitors will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis,” Obama said in a statement.

“Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process,” he said.

Under the guidelines, records of visitors from the previous 90-120 days will be released online. Watchdog groups said they expected the first records dump in December.

Not everything will be posted. The White House said a “small group of appointments” related to national security will remain confidential. And confidential meetings with potential nominees may also be withheld.

Otherwise, “the record of every visitor who comes to the White House for an appointment, a tour, or to conduct business will be released,” the White House said.

Watchdog groups praised the move.

Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, whose group helped develop the policy, said the administration had “proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency.”

CREW has often been involved in lawsuits over the visitor logs. Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union, also praised the move, but urged the administration to be more specific about the exceptions to the disclosure rule.

“We encourage President Obama to define these exceptions narrowly and to keep secret visits in the White House to a minimum,” he said.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Democratic Senators leave White House after meeting Obama in early August)

8 comments

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Transparency has been Obama’s trade-mark. He is blazing a trail other Presidents were resistant to. Of course there are national security secrets that have to be protected. But when citizens are able to have a reasonably good idea of how policies are formulated and how the President and his staff members are performing, voters would feel more engaged. That is a highly important step in a leading democracy.

I was quite surprised that Obama initially resisted on as broad a front as he did, and have continued to be surprised not only by that broad front but by the length of time he has persisted.

But I’ll give him credit now, as has an earlier contributor to these comments, Pancha Chandra Brussels. (Is Brussels this person’s surname — or location???)

I do want to see how narrowly he defines the group(s) requiring off-the-record visits — and that such groups do indeed exist is beyond any rational argument, as even the Rabid Right and Looney Left have to agree.

I am curious about one point. Athe article quotes someone at the White House as saying “. . . the record of every visitor who comes to the White House for an appointment, A TOUR [my caps], or to conduct business will be released.” Even tourists who come in for a public *tour*? Sure, have them sign in and out, whatever, but I don’t see any benefit to be derived from posting online that Granny Jones from Shucksville took a public tour of parts of the White House. This isn’t a big deal to me, just a bit odd.

In any case, this will move the bar higher for future presidents — and for President Obama himself.

I’ll be interested to see how his detractors box this as some sort of “socialist” move, etc.

Posted by Mekhong Kurt | Report as abusive

The TRUTH,The PARTIAL TRUTH, as WE, Obama and crew, deem required !

Posted by bbRASK | Report as abusive

We are not focusing on the log signing or the people seen walking down the front path,our focus is on the people that Obama is trying to sneek in the back door,through czar gate.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Where was government transparency? I thought all of government was open records.

Only rhe slect few czars tell us what to do. I thought our COnstitution did not allow a czar to rule in a Democracy form of government.

Someone please tell Obama he is unAmerican and took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the USA. WHen he had his hand on the Bible, Ihe also had his fingers crossed. He probalby does not beleive in THAT particular Bible anyway, especially if you are a Muslum.

Complete transparency is impossible, this is a given. I don’t see the necessity of publishing tour members, who have no influence over policy or even get to see the President. Overall, I see this as a positive gesture and will check the listings from time to time.

not to degrade into the usual bickering but, to canon camera bag:

President Obama is not a Muslim. he is not a religious fundamentalist. particularly one who consults weekly with radical evangelicals, as his predecessor did.
church and state remain separated in this white house.
his predecessor was circumventing the constitution, he did the very things you accuse the present office holder of doing and much more.
if he who has no sin should cast the first stone, then the GOP should be far away from any piece of rock at all.

Posted by Jeremy | Report as abusive

Obama will not make all of his visitors known. “Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process,” except for a “small group of appointments” related to national security…… Give me a break….

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Transparency? Are you kidding me? He’s been nothing but secretive the entire time. He’s appointed several high ranking so-called officials without congressional approval, as required, etc. National security has nothing to do with publishing edited visitor lists.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive