(The Hill) - The Trump administration will not voluntarily disclose logs of visitors to the White House complex, it announced Friday, breaking with the practice started under former President Obama.
White House communications director Mike Dubke released a statement citing “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
A limited number of records of visitors to White House departments, such as the Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Trade Representative, will be accessible through Freedom of Information Act requests. But most will not, including those that apply to the president and his senior staff.
The announcement angered ethics and good-government watchdogs, who argue the public has the right to know who is visiting the White House.
Three such organizations sued the administration in federal court this week, demanding the logs be released.
"It’s disappointing that the man who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ just took a massive step away from transparency by refusing the release the White House visitor logs that the American people have grown accustomed to accessing over the last six years," Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.
Bookbinder said the records "provide indispensable information about who is seeking to influence the president."
Under the Trump administration’s policy, the records will be kept secret until five years after the president leaves office.
The decision was first reported by Time magazine.
It ended months of speculation about the future of the records. Since Trump took office Jan. 20, a section of the White House website
where the visitor logs were posted under Obama has been left blank.
“This page is being updated. It will post records of White House visitors on an ongoing basis, once they become available,” the webpage reads.
The page was scrubbed later Friday.
The Obama administration’s decision to disclose visitor logs came in response to a series of lawsuits that began under former President George W. Bush. Records were posted online on a monthly basis for people who visited 90 to 120 days prior.
But exceptions were carved out for “purely personal guests of the first and second families” and “records related to a small group of particularly sensitive meetings
That often sparked criticism, including from now-Trump officials, that the Obama White House was being less than forthcoming about who was visiting. For example, the first family hosted a “private” concert
in 2015 headlined by Prince and Stevie Wonder that was attended by 500 people, including influential business figures and campaign supporters.
Those guests were not included in the publicly released visitor records.
The White House also announced it’s terminating Open.Gov, which the Obama White House used to post visitor logs, staff salary information and financial disclosures. Officials argued the site is duplicative and closing it could save $700,000 over the next three years.
Trump aides rebutted criticism of the decision, saying their administration has “broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people.”
They cited the issuance of press passes to more media outlets and restrictions on lobbyists working for the government.
As a private citizen in 2012, Trump criticized Obama for trying to hide public records.
"Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President--ever--and he ran on transparency," he tweeted