The U.S. Secret Service has denied being in possession of any records of the visitors who may have had access to President Donald Trump during his winter visits to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.
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The agency responded to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit Wednesday demanding it release the full logs of visitors who accessed the resort, saying "there is no system for keeping track of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago, as there is at the White House Complex."
After a search, Special Agent Kim Campbell told a federal court, the Secret Service found that "there is no grouping, listing, or set of records that would reflect presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago."
The court filing is the latest development in a suit earlier this year by a group of transparency groups: the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the National Security Archive and Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute.
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Failla had most recently ordered the Secret Service to hand over any documents relevant to the original FOIA request by Sep. 15, but the agency responded with just a single page of 22 Japanese officials who were part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's delegation in his February weekend visit to the resort.
Special Agent Campbell said in the court filing that while the Secret Service doesn't keep its own log of visitors, that's separate from information that may be provided to the White House itself under the security clearance system. Campbell acknowledged, however, that those would be considered official presidential records and, therefore,protected under executive privilege from being released.
In response to the court filing, Executive Director Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington raised alarm at the prospect of there being no records that could be accessed by the public about those who may cross paths with the president behind the confines of the presidential retreat.
"If the government’s statement is true," Bookbinder said in a statement. "The government has just revealed 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. And that is terrifying."
The Trump administration had already sparked transparency concerns this past April when it announced it was putting a halt to the Obama administration practice of making public most of the visitors who had access to the White House.