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US Group Criticizes White House Protection Of Visitor Logs January 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The chief counsel of a group suing to get White House visitor logs said Friday that an agreement that excludes the data from the Freedom of Information Act is “a political maneuver couched as a legal one.”

The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement last spring in the midst of a major lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House complex aren’t subject to public disclosure.

“It appears the White House is actually manufacturing evidence to further its own agenda,” said Anne Weismann, a Justice Department lawyer for 19 years and now chief counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

President George W. Bush’s administration didn’t reveal the existence of the memorandum of understanding until last fall. The White House is using it to deal with a legal problem on a separate front, a ruling by a federal judge ordering the production of Secret Service logs identifying visitors to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

In a federal appeals court filing three weeks ago, the administration’s lawyers used the memo in a legal argument aimed at overturning the judge’s ruling. The Washington Post Co. (WPO) is suing for access to the Secret Service logs.

The five-page document dated May 17 declares that all entry and exit data on White House visitors belongs to the White House as presidential records rather than to the Secret Service as agency records. Therefore, the agreement states, the material isn’t subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memo last spring was signed by the White House and Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Jack Abramoff.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment.

As part of its security function of protecting the White House complex, the Secret Service uses the log information to conduct background checks on people prior to daily appointments and visits.

The memorandum of understanding is an unusual step because it deals with an unsettled area of law.

Federal courts will ultimately decide whether records identifying White House visitors and who they are going to see are under the legal control of the Secret Service or are presidential records publicly releasable solely at the discretion of the White House.

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