From Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller
Taking what officials call an "unprecedented" step in transparency, the White House released visitor logs today showing some popular names: William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, R. Kelly, and Malik Shabazz visiting the White House.
But, no – those are not who you think they are, official say; these famous people never really visited the White House – these are other people with the same name.
"There’s an important lesson here as well," Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform writes in a blog posting on the White House website, "This unprecedented level of transparency can sometimes be confusing rather than providing clear information. A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings. Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few "false positives" – names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else."
For example there are 59 59 Malik Shabazz's listed at whitepages.com and 53 W. Ayers, although some of those are doubles.
The visitor logs span from January 20th – September, 15th, 2009 yet is only in response to individual request that are "reasonable, narrow, and specific." For example the White House would not release a blanket request for all of the visitor logs during that nine month period.
After this initial report, the White House now plans from now on to make each months visitor logs available online 90-120 days after.
The logs provide the following information about visitors: their full name, whom they met with, when they entered the White House and when they left.
The White House's claim of unprecedented transparency is accurate, good government groups say, but it comes stapled to a mess of caveats.
Before the logs are released each month, the White House counsel's office will review them and remove those covered by the exemptions being made for national security reasons, and the privacy of the First and Second Families pertaining to personal visits that do not involve any official or political business.
Case by case exemptions also will be made for those visits of political sensitivity – like Supreme Court candidates.
Other exemptions, the White House says, will be for records "that implicate personal privacy or law enforcement concerns (e.g., dates of birth, social security numbers, and contact phone numbers)," and records that implicate the personal safety of White House staff, including their daily arrival and departure times. White House officials will apparently have sole discretion as to this subjective decision-making.
In September the White House first announced that they would change this policy and voluntarily disclose White House visitor access records.
"We will achieve our goal of making this 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 it," President Obama said in a statement about the change of policy in September, " Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process."
The new policy was the result of the Justice Department settling lawsuits brought by the good government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) which had sought visitor's logs from both the Obama and Bush administrations.
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller