US

Biden releases first White House visitor logs, but some will remain secret

Biden releases first White House visitor logs, but some will remain secret

The White House on Friday released visitor logs from President Biden’s first weeks in office, but admitted that some entries will remain secret.

White House visitor logs have the power to expose outside influence at the highest levels of government, particularly by unsavory figures. But the White House said it will remove names from periodic disclosures at its own discretion.

“In keeping with the Obama-Biden Administration’s policy, select records that implicate privacy, national security, or other concerns will be withheld,” the White House said in a release.

Just 400 entries are listed in the first batch of visitor logs posted online by the White House. The entries are from January and don’t include “virtual” visitors who chatted with officials over Zoom, which has become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the visitors are cabinet secretaries — including Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg— and most did not arrive to meet with Biden, the records show.

The records include the name of the hosting officials and the meeting venue, including the West Wing-adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was among those listed on the public visitor logs.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was among those listed on the public visitor logs.
Patrick Semansky/AP

The initial batch also does not list members of Biden’s family, who were with him when he entered the White House grounds after his inauguration on Jan. 20.

The Obama administration in 2009 began releasing some visitor logs as a matter of policy to resolve lawsuits from the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Former President Donald Trump in 2017 discontinued the regular publication of visitor logs.

Presidents can pick and choose what they reveal about visitors thanks to an appeals court ruling that Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote as a judge in 2013.

Garland wrote for a three-judge panel that the president’s constitutional right to confidential communications means that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to visitor logs kept by the Secret Service — even though they would seem to meet the standard definition of “agency records” under FOIA.

The conservative group Judicial Watch had sued Obama for the complete records, arguing that they were reviewable under FOIA and that any national security or privacy concerns could be addressed with specific legally defined redactions.

In 2013, then-judge Merrick Garland said FOIA requests would not be applicable to visitor logs.
In 2013, then-judge Merrick Garland said FOIA requests would not be applicable to visitor logs.
Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP

The Trump White House made full use of Garland’s ruling to abandon disclosure of logs. Then-White House communications director Michael Dubke said Trump’s decision was made due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”

Under Trump, visitor records occasionally leaked anyhow, including to reveal that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon had hosted child sex offender George Nader 13 times, though Bannon said he was unaware of Nader’s rap sheet. The leak was designed to hurt Bannon, who was said to be returning to Trump’s good graces.

At Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, his defense team cited Obama-era visitor logs, saying they indicated that Biden met with his son’s business partner Devon Archer shortly before Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where he earned a reported $83,000 per month.

House Democrats impeached Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s job while his dad led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. But Trump attorney Pam Bondi argued that the elder Biden may have had his own hand in the deal and that there was legitimate potential corruption to investigate.

Former President Trump did not release public logs.
Former President Trump did not release public logs, although some of that information made its way out anyway.
Luis M. Alvarez/AP

“Here’s how Hunter Biden came to join Burisma’s board in April 2014: he was brought on the board by Devon Archer, his business partner,” Bondi said on the Senate floor. “Public records show that April 16, 2014, Devon Archer meets with Vice President Biden at the White House. Just two days later on April 18, 2014, is when Hunter Biden quietly joins Burisma.”

Archer later was convicted in 2018 of defrauding an American Indian tribe.

A different source — a September report from the Senate homeland security and finance committees— said Hunter Biden actually joined the Burisma board on May 12, 2014, which would have been about a month after his father met with Archer, who the report says joined the Burisma board on April 22, one day after the elder Biden visited Ukraine.

About the author

James Thompson

James Thompson has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Report Door one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

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