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Obama's White House visitor logs: less than full disclosure

The Center for Public Integrity and Politico have an interesting follow-up story on the lists of visitors to President Barack Obama's White House. Readers may remember that msnbc.com pursued the visitor logs persistently, reporting in a series of articles on gaps in the White House release of public records.

Here's the gist of Politico's story:

The White House website proudly boasts of making available “over 1,000,000 records of everyone who’s come through the doors of the White House” via a searchable database.

Yet the Center’s analysis shows that the logs routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, whom they met with and the nature of their visits. The logs even include the names of people who never showed up. These are critical gaps that raise doubts about the records’ historical accuracy and utility in helping the public understand White House operations, from social events to meetings on key policy debates.

The reporters point out how few visitors are recorded with the former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, with visitors apparently ascribed to underlings who set up meetings.

Read the rest of the story by Viveca Novak and Fred Schulte, on Politico's website.

As we've pointed out before, another weakness in the records is that they give no hometown, and often no affiliation. Knowing a name is not enough to know whether the name listed is the same as a person who represents a particular lobbying interest.

And the White House has not released most of the records from the first eight months of the administration. To find out whether someone visited during that period, a member of the public or journalist must guess at the names. The administration will confirm a visitor during that period, but won't release the list wholesale. The White House says the Secret Service data system was not set up for wholesale release during that period, with confidential and security information mixed in with visitor logs.

Still today, the Obama White House takes the same position as its predecessors, arguing that its release of visitor logs is voluntary. Msnbc.com and others have argued, and federal courts have ruled, that release is required under the Freedom of Information Act, because these are agency records under the control of the Secret Service. (Agency records are subject to the FOIA law, while White House records are not.)


 

The Obama administration argues, correctly, that it is the first to release wholesale information on visitors. Still, it's also true that it did so under pressure from the press and advocacy groups, and that its release of information has been less than 100 percent.

Stories in our msnbc.com series on the White House visitor logs: