President Obama is reversing the White House policy on visitor logs records that previous administrations have kept under wraps.
In a statement issued from Camp David this morning, Obama said the White House will begin posting online each month the records of visitors from the past three or four months.
"For the first time in history, records of White House visitors will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis," Obama said in the written statement. He said he would make his administration "the most open and transparent administration in history not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside. Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process."
The decision resolves four lawsuits from a citizen watchdog group that originally brought its complaints to the Bush administration.
The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sought records reflecting the visits of Christian conservative leaders and lobbyist Stephen Payne to the Bush White House, which argued that the documents should be protected as presidential records, even though they were created by the Secret Service.
A U.S. district judge disagreed, ruling twice that the records were subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Those decisions were appealed by the government.
CREW renewed its objections when Obama took office, seeking records of visits to the White House by health care and coal executives in an attempt to figure out how they were influencing health care and energy talks. Obama's staff originally refused to give CREW the records.
With his decision, Obama reversed course. His administration becomes the first in presidential history to release such records.
Still, some names will be held back from public view, the White House said, such as visits by a potential Supreme Court nominee that officials want to keep confidential. But the White House will report the number of such meetings they are holding back and then release the names later "when it is more appropriate to do so."
In addition, "covert operatives" who meet with the president will also be kept secret, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday. The point of the exception is to "protect those whose lives you could endanger" by revealing them, he said.
The names of those who pay personal visits to the Obama daughters also will not be made public.
It's not clear if the new policy will apply to visits on Air Force One or at Camp David.
CREW plans to drop its lawsuits.
"The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said today.
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