Judge hands loss to White House on visitors logs


By PETE YOST – 7 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Friday rejected the Bush administration's latest attempt to keep secret the identities of White House visitors and declared that it engaged in illegal record-keeping practices.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded that the practices in dispute took place before October 2004 when the Secret Service transferred large numbers of entry and exit logs to the White House and then deleted internal Secret Service copies of them.

The practices ended, the judge said, after various private organizations went to court in an effort to gain access to the logs.

Lamberth's ruling brushed aside the government's argument that revealing Secret Service logs would impede the president's ability to perform his constitutional duties.

The court said that the likelihood of harm is not great enough to justify curtailing the public disclosure goals of the Freedom of Information Act.

A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked for the records to determine whether nine conservative religious leaders visited the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence in October 2006.

Lamberth's decision means the government will have to find other legal grounds if it wants to block release of the Secret Service logs.

While the case was a setback for the Bush White House, the effect of the administration's claim of a presidential communications privilege succeeded in dragging out the lawsuit filed in October 2006.

The administration's request to extend the presidential communications privilege to Secret Service logs is inconsistent with other decisions by the federal courts in Washington, D.C., the judge said.

Secret Service logs have been used in investigations by both Congress and federal prosecutors. For example, the logs have revealed the comings and goings of various White House visitors, including Monica Lewinsky and Clinton campaign donor Denise Rich, the wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who received a pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton administration.

In the midst of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in the spring of 2006, the White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House are not open to the public.

Four months later, Cheney's office told the Secret Service in a letter that visitor records for the vice president's personal residence "are and shall remain subject to the exclusive ownership, custody and control of OVP."

The case over the Secret Service logs is one of many legal battles in which the Bush White House resisted disclosure. Some others:

_Cheney's refusal, eventually supported by the courts, to identify the energy executives and lobbyists he met with in forging a pro-industry energy policy in 2001.

_The White House's refusal to turn over to Congress documents on the politically tinged firings of nine U.S. attorneys, some of whom were investigating Republican politicians.

_A lawsuit in which CREW is seeking White House documents detailing problems with the White House's e-mail system.