Email #292: “presidential visitors”?

The Freedom of Information Act requires public disclosure of government documents. Although ethically bound, the White House is legally exempt. Government ethics watch groups had to sue the Obama administration before it agreed to make White House visitor logs publicly available online—something the Trump administration has since halted. Now the same watch groups are suing the Trump administration.

In July, Federal District Court Judge Failla ruled that the administration had until this month to release the records of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago because those records fall under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service, which is a subdivision of Homeland Security not the White House. But instead of complying, the Justice Department announced earlier this month that the majority of the Secret Service records “contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the president’s schedules,” which are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. They released only the names of the delegation of the Japanese prime minister whose February visit to the President’s Florida resort was already well known.

The lawsuit sought the names of previously undisclosed visitors in order to investigate potential conflicts of interest. The Mar-a-Lago membership list includes nearly 500 individuals whose real estate, Wall Street, and energy corporations are directly affected by the President’s policies. The list includes mining billionaire William Koch and trader billionaire Thomas Peterffy who the New York Times reports spent over $8 million on anti-socialism political ads in 2012.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington argues that the American people should know who is influencing the President. Do you disagree? They are holding the Trump administration to the same standards that they held the Obama administration. Are you? The Justice Department “believes that presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA.” Do you agree?

Regardless of the scope of the FOIA, why shouldn’t the administration turn over both its Mar-a-Lago and its White House visitor logs? Fighting to keep this information hidden deepens ethical concerns. And since oversight of the Justice Department is your responsibility, those concerns now extend to you. You said before the President took office that people “elected to represent the American people should be held to the highest standards.” What standards are you holding our highest representative?

 

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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