MANHATTAN (CN) — Reversing a nearly decade-old tradition, the Trump administration has been blocking scrutiny into who is influencing the president at the White House and his private properties, watchdog groups claim in court.
Three pro-transparency organizations joined forces with a prominent researcher in a federal lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan.
Among them, the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, previously filed four federal lawsuits that drove former President Barack Obama to create a policy to release a redacted version of the White House’s visitor logs every month.
When he announced this policy in 2009, Obama said, “Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process.”
Under President Donald Trump, the White House website created for these disclosures has gone inactive, to the alarm of legislators, researchers and journalists.
Teaming up with CREW to restore daylight over months of these records under the Freedom of Information Act are the Knight First Amendment Institute, a recently launched press-advocacy group at Columbia University; the National Security Archive, a Washington-based nonprofit; and the archive’s senior analyst Kate Doyle.
CREW’s executive director Noah Bookbinder noted that Trump’s global business ties makes it particularly crucial to know who has been meeting with the president.
“Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue,” Bookbinder said in a statement.
In the same courthouse, CREW filed another lawsuit against Trump himself, asking a federal judge to declare his “vast, complicated and secret” business ties in violation of the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution. That case has been active since three days after Inauguration Day.
The latest lawsuit is against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, whose component agency — the Secret Service — maintains the visitor logs.
Citing department policy, the agency declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Last month, eight senators wrote to Trump and the Secret Service’s deputy director William Callahan seeking to restore the Obama-era policy.
“It would be a significant setback to efforts to give the public insight into who influences the White House if this policy were to be discontinued or limited,” the senators wrote, as quoted in the 10-page lawsuit. “Indeed, given the unique aspects of how President Trump has decided to conduct official business, we believe he needs to do even more just to meet the benchmark of transparency set by President Obama.”
Looking beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the lawsuit also seeks information on who has been visiting the president at New York’s Trump Tower and Florida’s Mar-a-Lago, the so-called “Winter White House” where Trump has sojourned seven times since taking office.
Alex Abdo, a prominent civil-liberties attorney, signed the lawsuit on behalf of the Knight First Amendment Institute.
“This is a case about the public’s right to know who wields influence over the most powerful office in our government,” Abdo said in a statement.
The Freedom of Information Act requests at issue demand visitor logs from Inauguration Day to March 8.