WH refuses to release bulk of visitors in Mar-a-Lago FOIA request

WH refuses to release bulk of visitors in Mar-a-Lago FOIA request
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The Trump administration brushed aside a Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) request for the logs of visitors at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, only releasing a small portion of those visitors on Friday.

The Justice Department only turned over names of staff who accompanied the Japanese prime minister on his trip to the resort in February. The department claimed in a letter on Friday that the rest of the names will be kept secret, a decision that will be challenged by ethics groups.

"The remaining records that the Secret Service has processed in response to the Mar-a-Lago contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the President's schedules," wrote Char Readler, the acting assistant attorney general, and Joon Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA."

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the left-leaning ethics group that sued for the documents, panned the response in a statement and promised to continue the legal battle.

"The government does not believe that they need to release any further Mar-a-Lago visitor records. We vehemently disagree," CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said.

"The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court. This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court.”

Ethics groups have long sought to compel administrations to release their visitor logs in the name of transparency. The Obama administration ultimately began disclosing that information after a series of lawsuits carried over from former President George W. Bush’s administration. 

But those logs were not always all-encompassing, as media reports sometimes uncovered visits that were not listed on the public disclosures.

The push to publish the Trump administration’s visitor logs is a two-pronged challenge because the president has taken meetings both at the White House and at his various properties. 

The administration announced in April that it would not release the names of people who visited the White House complex. Those records will instead remain secret until five years after the president’s final term expires.

The names the administration released all related to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit in February, where the two were faced with responding to a missile test by North Korea.

Complicating the release is that while Mar-a-Lago has increased security and Secret Service protection, it still houses a private club with its own membership along with Trump's residence. Various events, including balls and weddings, are held on the premises, meaning there's far more access to the club than to the White House complex, which meticulously screens every person allowed inside. 

This report was updated at 1:05 p.m.