WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is declining to release documents that would identify White House visitors, embracing a legal position taken by the Bush administration, according to a watchdog group that sued over access to the records.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed its federal lawsuit after being denied access to Secret Service records, including White House entry and exit logs, that would identify coal- and energy-industry visitors.
The government's refusal to release the records contrasts with President Obama's pledge of transparency.
The Secret Service also turned aside an msnbc.com request for the names of all White House visitors since Jan. 20.
In a letter, the Homeland Security Department told CREW that most of the records the group sought were not department records subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. It said the records were governed by the Presidential Records Act.
Homeland Security said it had been advised by the Justice Department that releasing the requested records could reveal information protected by the presidential-communications privilege.
The Bush administration fought on the same legal ground for several years in a case now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that, because of CREW's lawsuit, the counsel's office was leading a review into whether to uphold the previous administration's policy of not releasing the logs. He did not have a timeframe for when that review would be done.
The goal is "to uphold the principle of open government" and increased transparency that Obama campaigned on, Gibbs said. But he also said that the issue of upholding precedent from previous presidents was a consideration.
At the same time, Gibbs defended Obama's right to hold meetings at the White House with undisclosed participants.
"I think there are obviously occasions in which the president is going to meet privately with advisers on topics that are of great national importance, yes," he said.