The Trump administration on Friday turned over 22 names related to the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Mar-a-Lago with the president, while still withholding all other visitor records to the president’s exclusive Florida resort.
The 22 names were released after liberal government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — along with the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University — filed a lawsuit seeking the logs. But the government’s lawyers have made the case that the bulk of the records do not have to be released.
“The remaining records that the Secret Service has processed in response to the Mar-a-Lago request contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the President’s schedules,” the lawyers said in the documents released Friday. “The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA.”
The list released Friday features top Japanese government officials, including Yuko Aota, assistant to the prime minister; Ambassador of Japan Kenichiro Sasae; and National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi. The list had been sent in a Feb. 10 email from Aaron Chang in the State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol with the subject line "Japan Staff Coming to Mar-a-Lago."
"The government misled the plaintiffs and the court," National Security Archive director Tom Blanton said in a statement after the release. "I can only conclude that the Trump White House intervened and overrode career lawyers."
Trump, who made several trips to to the exclusive resort as president with top White House officials, largely stayed out of the public eye while at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has so far spent 25 days at Mar-a-Lago, which he calls the "Winter White House," since taking office in January.
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Mar-a-Lago in February, members of the club posted photos on Facebook of Trump being briefed about a North Korean missile test. The episode raised security concerns.
“There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California wrote on Twitter at the time.
Members who paid $200,000 in initiation fees have had unique access to the president. Some members have posted photos of Trump on social media during his visits, and the president’s been known to sound out members on issues within the White House.
CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said his organization “vehemently” disagrees with the government’s decision to only release a small portion of the visitor logs. “The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court,” Bookbinder said in a statement posted to CREW’s site. “This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court.”
In July, when the group announced it would get the records as part of ongoing litigation, Bookbinder argued “The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff,” and said information about meetings at the White House should be public as well.