On an operational level, the Obama administration is practically indistinguishable from the immediately previous Bush administration, which was pretty mendacious. To paraphrase The Who’s Pete Townsend, “Meet the new statist hacks, same as the old statist hacks.” This unpleasant truth – hope-crushing to legions of progressive nitwits – has manifested itself in several significant ways. The clearest may be the continuing (and legally dubious) argument that White House visitor logs should remain secret.
Although Candidate Obama croaked familiar platitudes about fostering “transparency” if elected, President Obama has actually advocated a princely murkiness that would make Dick Cheney proud. And the two men show an equal contempt for court orders.
Media outlets and so-called”good government” advocacy groups claim that it’s important to know the names of White House visitors, who may have heavy influence on the president, his various “czars,” and other staff. In late 2006, some of these groups sued to make the Bush White House’s visitor logs public. At the time, they were interested in tracking vis- its by evangelical Christian leaders, including James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, and Donald Wildmon. The Bush administration countered that the logs – created and maintained by the Secret Service – were not government agency records; they were, it claimed, covered by the Presidential Records Act, which trumps the Freedom of Information Act.
u.s. District Judge Royce Lamberth (a Reagan appointee who’s handled a number of politically charged cases to generally favorable reviews) disagreed with the Bushies. In late 2007, Lamberth concluded that the logs were subject to the FOIA and should be released. The crux of his decision was that a mere list of the people who’ve visited the White House doesn’t betray state secrets or matters of national security. He gave the Bush administration 20 days to make the log public.
The Bushies ignored the court’s order. In September 2008, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security tapped his jackboots against the podium and told one media outlet that it wouldn’t release the visitor logs, repeating the “presidential privilege” justification that Lamberth had specifically rejected.
Behavior like this was one reason that so many unhinged Bush critics insisted (and still insist) that W. was a criminal who should be prosecuted.
Bush administration lawyers painted a fig leaf over their disregard by making various procedural arguments in court. They successfully ran out the political clock with filings and appeals. In early January of this year, Lamberth repeated his conclusions, but by then, W. was packing for his return to Texas.
On January 14, with less than a week left in Bush’s term, the Department of Justice formally appealed Lamberth’s decision. A few days later, the “Hope and Change” guy moved into the White House. But the policy with regard to visitor logs remained the same. The Obama Justice Department has continued the appeal.
Recently, the “good government” types have changed their focus from evangelicals to energy executives; they worry particularly that coal companies are exerting a nefarious effect on Obama and his minions. But they’re running into the same obstructions.
According to Anne Weismann, a lawyer for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: “We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration is following the same anti-transparency policy as the Bush administration when it comes to White House visitor records. Refusing to let the public know who visits the White House is not the action of a pro-transparency, pro-accountability administration.”
Welcome to Chinatown, doll.