Email #135: “the least transparent President”?

Donald Trump tweeted in 2012: “Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President — ever — and he ran on transparency.”

The claim is, like so many of the President’s claims, unfounded hyperbole. But the principle it evokes is still important and one we can all agree about:

Government should be transparent.

Despite Trump’s complaint, the Obama administration was comparatively transparent. It released literally millions of names of visitors to the White House, including those of lobbyists and big donors. Anyone could see them listed on the White House’s online visitor log—though only after a three-month delay.

President Trump has been in office for three months, but that website log is no longer being maintained. Worse, the administration stated in early April that it will not continue the Obama transparent practice of disclosing names—except when legally compelled to. Instead of looking at the log online, Americans now have to file Freedom of Information Act requests. Even then the administration need only comply if the visitors are meeting not in the Oval Office but with a subordinate agency like the Management and Budget Office.

The new Trump policy has already triggered lawsuits demanding the release of the visitor log—something the Obama administration did voluntarily. The Trump administration claims not posting the log online saves taxpayers over $20,000 a year, but how much is the White House spending on lawyers to defend against the lawsuits?

Costs and hypocrisy aside, how is a less transparent White House a better White House? Why shouldn’t Americans know which lobbyists and big donors are meeting with the President? As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, oversight of the executive branch is one of your primary responsibilities.  When are you going to speak against the administration’s backward shift toward reduced transparency? Or is your oversight of the executive branch guided solely by partisan politics?

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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