The Trump administration said Friday that White House visitor logs will remain secret, a significant blow for government watchdog groups that had been fighting to keep the records openly accessible. The move is a break with precedent established by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, who became the first president to release the records as part of his promise to run the "most transparent" administration in U.S. history.
According to ABC News, administration officials say Trump has already improved some of Washington's ethics practices, which apparently should exempt him from criticism over this decision.
"[The] Trump administration has broken new ground in ensuring our government is both ethical and accessible to the American people," White House communications director Michael Dubke said. Dubke cited Trump's recent executive order placing restrictions on lobbyists and his inclusion of new news outlets in the daily press briefing. The communications director did not mention Trump's attempts to ban several high-profile news outlets, including CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and Buzzfeed, from press briefings in February.
One of the White House's justifications for refusing to publish the records online is that it could save taxpayers $70,000 by 2020, the Washington Post reports. However, this is something of an insult when taken in context with the cost of Trump's frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida. According to CNN, Trump has amassed more than $20 million in travel costs even before reaching the end of his third month in office, and is on track to spend more on travel in his first year than Obama spent in eight years as president.
Following public calls for transparency in his administration, the Obama administration began releasing the White House visitor logs in 2009, and they're still publicly available online. According to the Washington Post, some exceptions were made, including private guests of the Obama family, such as the school friends of daughters Sasha and Malia, and especially sensitive visitors like potential Supreme Court nominees. However, all other visitors' names were released to be sure that the public had knowledge of groups and individuals accessing the White House. The Trump administration's decision to specifically change that precedent, rather than score political points for attempts at transparency, calls into question the real reason behind the choice.
The decision to keep the White House visitor logs private is the latest Trump moves to prove how much of the presidency is enshrined in tradition rather than law. After nearly two years of public, Trump still has not released his tax returns, which all of the men to hold his position since Richard Nixon have done. Trump's less than "presidential" rhetoric has also been critiqued, which has led to public arguments about how the nation's leader is expected to behave. In the end, part of Trump's legacy may be one of clarification, leading to stricter and more enforceable guidelines for future presidents' actions.