35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Secret Service and White House Win Rosemary Award for Worst in Open Government in 2017

Published: Mar 12, 2018

Edited by Nate Jones, Lauren Harper, and Tom Blanton

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Agency Claim there is No System for Tracking Who Visits Trump at Mar-a-Lago Gives Deep-Pocketed Lobbyists and Foreign Agents Unfettered Access to the President

Fierce Competition for Worst in Open Government Award

Washington, D.C., March 12, 2018 - The Secret Service and the White House have emerged as the dubious winners from the hard-fought competition for the National Security Archive’s infamous Rosemary Award for worst open government performance of 2017.

The award, which the Archive began bestowing in 2005, is named after President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who testified she had inadvertently erased 18 and ½ minutes of a crucial Watergate tape when she stretched to answer the phone with her foot still on the transcription pedal. Previous Rosemary Award “winners” include the CIA, the Treasury Department, the Air Force, the FBI, the Justice Department (twice), and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The Secret Service clinched the 2017 award for its claim that “There is no system for keeping track of Presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago.” This remarkable assertion was made in an October 4, 2017, court filing during the course of the National Security Archive’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking the Secret Service's White House visitor logs, along with Secret Service records of presidential visitors at other Trump properties.

The shocking claim that there is no system for tracking who has access to the President when he is at Mar-a-Lago (or any other Trump property) means that anyone, from lobbyists to foreign agents, can have direct access to the president for the price of a Mar-a-Lago membership paid to the president himself.

The October 4th filing came on the heels of the White House website promising, then reneging, that “it will post records on White House visitors on an ongoing basis,” the Secret Service losing the Archive’s initial FOIA request, and then its request for a one-week extension during the course of our lawsuit.  The Secret Service said it needed more time to process the “substantial” quantity of documents responsive to our request “numbering in the hundreds” – only to release merely two pages of responsive records concerning the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This drastic turn-around suggests the Secret Service’s response was influenced by the White House.

Kate Doyle, Archive senior analyst, filed the initial FOIA for the White House visitor logs on the Monday after Trump’s inauguration.  The FOIA lawsuit, Doyle et al. v. DHS, was filed on April 10, 2017, in the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York and was brought by the Archive together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).  Jameel Jaffer, Alex Abdo, and Anne Weismann argued the case.

This year’s Rosemary Award brought fierce competition from a plethora of U.S. government actors who worked to make America more secret and its citizens more uninformed. Runners up for this un-coveted award include: