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Friday, January 09, 2009

Judge Rules for Openness in Visitor Log Saga

A federal judge on Friday rejected the Bush administration's latest attempt to keep secret the identities of White House visitors and declared that the government illegally deleted Secret Service computer records.

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

The deletions ceased after the archivist to the United States instructed the Secret Service to stop the practice and after various private organizations went to court in an effort to gain access to the logs, according to papers filed in the case. The deletions go back at least as far as 2001, the government's papers added, the year President George W. Bush took office.

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.

While the case was a setback for the Bush White House, the effect of the claim of a presidential communications privilege succeeded in dragging out the lawsuit until the end of the Bush administration.

A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked for the records in 2006 to determine whether nine conservative religious leaders visited the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence. A separate lawsuit by CREW seeks any Secret Service logs for White House visits by a Texas businessman who allegedly tried to sell access to administration officials in exchange for contributions to Bush's presidential library fund.

More here.

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