The White House on Friday released the first tranche of the complex’s visitor logs after announcing it would resume releasing the records that the Trump administration withheld.
The first tranche names 400 visitors who visited the White House between noon on Inauguration Day and January 31, and includes seven individuals visiting the Oval Office. Among them are Office of the Director of National Intelligence Chief of Staff Charles Luftig and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s wife, Charlene.
Also listed among visitors to the White House are a number of as-then unconfirmed Cabinet secretaries, including now-Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
The White House said in a news release that the decision offered the public “a look into the visitors entering and exiting the White House campus for appointments, tours, and official business — making good on President Biden’s commitment to restore integrity, transparency, and trust in government.”
The move is a reversal from former President Donald Trump’s time in office. The Trump administration refused to release visitor logs to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, citing “grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
The Obama White House released visitor logs beginning in September 2009 and continued throughout that administration’s two terms, posting logs under the terms of its voluntary disclosure policy. In a statement announcing the news Friday, the White House acknowledged that “select records that implicate privacy, national security, or other concerns will be withheld.”
During a February briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pledged the administration would release the logs, telling reporters at the White House the disclosure was in keeping with their goal of being “the most ethical, ethically stringent government in history,” but stopped short of committing to release logs from virtual meetings.
“At this point, there’s not a discussion of making virtual meetings a part of what’s released,” Psaki told reporters at the time, while acknowledging that a number of the President’s meetings, during the global Covid-19 pandemic, were virtual.
Friday’s decision drew qualified praise from ethics watchdogs, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“We sued the Obama administration to make White House visitor logs public. Unfortunately, the Trump administration ended that practice. It is an important victory for transparency that the Biden administration is voluntarily releasing these,” CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz told CNN in a statement.
Still, Libowitz told CNN, Friday’s move “falls short of full transparency.”
“As we are in a pandemic, visitor logs should include virtual meetings, not just those who showed up at the White House in person.”