Last week, the administration attempted to quietly bury its decision to abandon the Obama-era practice of releasing the White House visitors’ logs, citing national security concerns. This means that thousands of lobbyists, donors and businessmen who come to meet with the President or his senior staff will be kept secret in records that are arguably immune from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Those who visit the President and his senior staff have been of increasing interest to journalists and the public following the revelation that Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee charged with investigating Russian interference in the election, misled the American people after sharing information that he felt exonerated the President and his advisers while failing to disclose that he had in fact received that information at the White House.
Nunes has since recused himself from the probe into Russia and is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Had information of his trip to the White House not been leaked, there would have been less evidence to fuel the public outcry that acted as a catalyst to his recusal and investigation. This is the potential information that lies in White House visitors’ logs.
But Nunes, who advised the Trump campaign, is not the lone bad apple in Trump’s inner circle to be exposed to the public thanks to leaks. We now know that the FBI has been monitoring at least one Trump campaign adviser, Carter Paige, since August 2016 through a secret 90 day FISA court warrant—renewed multiple times by a judge—issued based on probable cause that Paige was acting as an agent of the Russian Federation.
We also know that two other high-profile Trump contacts—Paul Manafort, former campaign manager, and Mike Flynn, former National Security Advisor, both of whom resigned in disgrace—have now retroactively registered as foreign agents after payments they received in recent years from overseas governments came to light.
And we know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from any Justice Department probes into Russian election interference after it was revealed that he failed to disclose a meeting with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearing.
A thorough background check by the Trump campaign and then White House officials would have uncovered some-to-all of these red flags. But the American public didn’t find out about the suspect practices of senior advisors from the President, they heard about them from the press.
If the White House is attributing the nondisclosure of visitors’ logs to national security concerns, it is fair for the public and press to cite the same argument as to why they should be released.
According to a recent Gallup poll, the number of Americans who trust Trump to keep his promises has quickly dropped from 62 percent in February to 45 percent in April. The percentage of Americans who believe the President is honest and trustworthy has also dropped from 42 percent in February to 36 percent in April. This decline has taken place among all subgroups: men and women, Democrats and Republicans, teenagers and the elderly, liberals and conservatives.
It appears that the President will have a continuously harder time convincing the American people that reports of Russian collusion, foreign agents and White House cover-ups are “fake news.” The decision to keep the visitors’ logs a secret means that any non-Trump approved information we get from them will come from leaks, giving the President a ready-made counter narrative to condemn the leaker, the dirty swamp in need of draining, instead of the revealed detail.
Media Resources: The New Yorker 4/11/17; NBC News 3/7/17; Business Insider 4/12/17; Time 4/11/17; Gallup Poll 4/17/17; New York Times 4/14/17