35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Government Claims No Records System for Mar-a-Lago Visitors

Published: Oct 5, 2017

Edited by Lauren Harper

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Lobbyists, Foreign Agents Can Pay Trump Clubs for Unvetted Access to President

Latest Filing Contradicts Previous Assertions that “Substantial” Number of Records Existed

“There is no system for keeping track of Presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago,” according to the government’s October 4, 2017, court filing in response to a National Security Archive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The suit, Doyle v. DHS, brought together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), seeks the Secret Service's White House visitor logs covering Inauguration Day through March 8, along with Secret Service records of presidential visitors at other Trump properties.

The implication of the government’s latest claim that there is no system for tracking visitors outside of the White House complex is, as CREW’s director Noah Bookbinder notes, “that everyone from lobbyists to foreign agents can buy secret access to the president – without accountability or even a simple record – by paying his personal business.” Such an arrangement undercuts not only the mission of the Secret Service, but undermines key transparency laws.

The “no records system” assertion comes on the heels of the government asking on September 8 for an extension for final review for the Mar-a-Lago visitor records, and the September 15 release of exactly two pages of responsive documents concerning the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - and after telling Judge Katherine Polk Failla and the plaintiffs that DHS would produce all the visitor records, of which the DOJ said there was a “substantial” amount “numbering in the hundreds.”

"The American people have a right to know who's visiting the President, and an integral part of the Secret Service's mission is to screen those people," said the National Security Archive's communications director Lauren Harper. "If true, this is an extraordinary oversight by the Secret Service, especially considering President Trump has already spent months of his presidency at his own properties, far from the White House, with no indication he will soon be spending less time on the greens and more time at the Rose Garden."

The White House visitor logs remain at issue in the case.

Read the government’s October 4 declaration here.