MANHATTAN (CN) – Clamoring to learn who met with the Trump-Pence Transition Team in their Washington offices ahead of Inauguration Day, The New York Times brought a federal complaint to access U.S. Secret Service’s visitors log.
Though the Times says the logs are public documents subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the Secret Service shot the request down under the Presidential Records Act, putting the logs under the exclusive legal custody and control of the White House.
In-house attorney David McCraw filed the 5-page complaint for the Times and reporter Nicholas Confessore late Monday.
Donald Trump was still one day shy of his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 19, 2017, when the Times brought its FOIA request to the Secret Service.
The Times notes that the request sought copies of the visitor logs that Secret Service kept “for the Presidential Transition Team offices at 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., between October 1, 2016 and January 19, 2017.”
Although the newspaper received an email on Feb. 9 indicating that Secret Service had begun a search for responsive records, the agency purportedly changed its tune on July 25.
The Times says it had been phoning Secret Service for months by that point, receiving assurances that the agency’s review of the FOIA request was in its final stages.
On July 25, however, the Secret Service claimed to have issued a Presidential Records Act response on May 1, 2017.
The Times says it has no record of receiving such a response, but that it quickly appealed the denial as explained to it over the phone.
It appealed again in September after receiving written notice in which the Secret Service said the requested records “are not Secret Service agency records subject to the FOIA.”
The 20-day window for Secret Service to answer that administrative appeal expired earlier this month.
Claiming that the Secret Service “has no lawful basis for declining to release the records requested,” Confessore and the Times seek an order compelling the agency to produce records responsive to their FOIA request.
Representatives for Secret Service, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Enacted in 1978, four years after former President Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal, the Presidential Records Act established ownership of presidential and vice presidential records. It imposed record-keeping requirements on the president and vice president and authorizes the National Archives and Records Administration to preserve and make presidential records publicly available.