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White House to begin revealing visitor logs

President Obama says the records will be posted online. The opening of the logs for the first time in history satisfies a watchdog group that originally filed lawsuits against the Bush administration.

September 05, 2009|Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — President Obama is reversing the White House policy on visitor logs, records that previously had been kept under wraps.

In a statement issued Friday from Camp David, Md., Obama said his administration would post information online each month detailing White House visitors during the prior three or four months.

"For the first time in history, records of White House visitors will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis," Obama said, adding that he would make his "the most open and transparent administration in history, not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside.

"Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process."

The new policy resolves four lawsuits from a watchdog group that originally brought its complaints to the George W. Bush administration.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had sought records reflecting the visits of Christian conservative leaders and lobbyist Stephen Payne to the Bush White House, which argued that the documents should be protected as presidential records even though they were created by the Secret Service.

A U.S. district judge disagreed, ruling twice that the records were subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The government appealed those decisions.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics renewed its objections when Obama took office, seeking records of visits to the White House by healthcare and coal industry executives in an attempt to figure out how they were influencing policy. Obama's staff originally refused to give up the records.

Even with the president's reversal Friday, some names still will be kept from public view, the White House said -- such as confidential visits by potential Supreme Court nominees, in the event of another opening on the high court.

But the White House will report the number of meetings it is holding back and release the visitors' names "when it is more appropriate to do so."

In addition, "covert operatives" who meet with the president also will be kept secret, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. The point of the exception is to "protect those whose lives you could endanger" by revealing them, he said.

The names of those who pay personal visits to the Obama daughters also will not be made public.

It was not clear whether the new policy would apply to visits on Air Force One or at Camp David.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said it planned to drop its lawsuits.

"The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise," Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.

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cparsons@latimes.com

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