Release of White House visitor logs important for transparency

Whether you’re a member of Congress or the president of the United States, the American people are your best watchdog. In order for Americans to serve this vital function and fulfill these critical responsibilities, it is only reasonable to provide them with the resources they need to carry out the job. We can start by allowing them to see who has the ear of our nation’s highest leaders. That’s why I worked with my Democratic colleagues in the Senate to introduce the Make Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness (MAR-A-LAGO) Act, which re-instates the Obama administration’s practice of releasing White House visitor logs.

Given the president’s expansive real estate holdings, this bill also requires the same level of disclosure at any other location the president regularly conducts official business, such as his private club Mar-a-Lago or offices at Trump Tower. Appropriately dubbed the “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago is where President Trump has spent five weekends — approximately 33 percent of his time since inauguration day — conducting official meetings with heads of state, business leaders and other guests with access to the club. Clearly, we have to broaden the scope when it comes to locations where the president might conduct official business.

{mosads}This legislation isn’t intended to critique any one administration or political party. Dating back to the years of our nation’s founding, administrations have faced criticism over private meetings that affect policies, impact legislation and inspire actions carried out by the White House.

The Obama administration’s decision to publish nearly 6 million visitor names during his eight years in office was not unprecedented. He simply utilized 21st-century technology to provide the public with the tools they need to hold him and those in his administration accountable. After all, the American public elected him to serve them in our country’s highest office.

Although this bill is now repackaged under an undeniably catchy and fitting acronym, it is important to note that this bill is not new. As co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, I’ve introduced this same provision in each of the last three Congresses as part of a bigger bill, titled the Transparency and Government Act. It is no surprise that it never received a great deal of attention before now because the lack of openness we are currently seeing was not an issue when President Obama occupied the Oval Office. He made his White House meetings public and did not conduct official meetings on various properties around the country. Times have changed, and this legislation is more important than ever.

Unless the Trump administration has something to hide, the practice of publishing visitor logs shouldn’t be a scary proposition. In the past week alone, we have seen the importance and relevance of this legislation. This bill could have helped address the question on many people’s minds — who did House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) meet with at the White House in the days before making a surprising announcement regarding the president’s surveillance claims?

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has not indicated whether it will continue this suppression of information. Until the White House begins releasing the visitor logs, my colleagues and the American people will keep up the pressure.

I came to Congress nearly eight years ago with the idea that the only way to successfully lead is to fight for an open and honest government that is free of fraud, waste and abuse. And just like the American public, I am concerned by the troubling record of obstruction on behalf of this administration. Our constituents have the right to know if the president, and those he does business with, are working in the interest of their success or on behalf of the wealthy few. 

Quigley represents Illinois’s 5th District and is co-chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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