The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to information about people who have been meeting with the president, two White House political appointees wrote in a letter released on Friday that essentially defied a court order.
"The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA," acting assistant attorney general Char Readler, and Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told the left-leaning government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
CREW, as the non-profit is generally known, had prevailed in a court case decided in July which compelled the administration to release the names of people who had been admitted to President Donald Trump's private country club, Mar-a-Lago, for meetings with him.
In response to the court order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla, the White House produced just 22 names, all of them connected to a February visit of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder vowed to resume his organization's lawsuit.
"The government does not believe that they need to release any further Mar-a-Lago visitor records. We vehemently disagree," he said. "The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court. This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court.”
Since he became president, Trump has visited his swanky Mar-a-Lago club 25 times. Under federal law, White House personnel records are exempt from FOIA requests, but visitor logs are kept by the Secret Service, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security. CREW and several other organizations have long sought to use this legal distinction to compel records to be made public.
In 2009, CREW had sued the former administration of Barack Obama until the president decided to make the records public. Nonetheless, oftentimes the records released by the past administration were incomplete. Frequently, White House officials were observed taking meetings at a coffee shop across the street from the White House so as to evade reporting requirements.