Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mar-a-Lago Visitor Logs Are Being Withheld, Ethics Group Says

  • Transparency groups won lawsuit to make records public
  • Florida resort has attracted attention over Trump visits

A government transparency group vowed on Friday to continue a court battle to open up visitor logs at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, after the administration provided only the names of Japanese staff who attended a February visit from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of three government transparency groups that sued the Department of Homeland Security for the information, obtained and released the records on Friday. The Justice Department said in a letter to CREW that the records were responsive to the group’s request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “This was spitting in the eye of transparency. We will be fighting this in court.”

CREW and other ethics specialists have criticized Trump for not divesting from his business holdings -- including Mar-a-Lago and other properties he visits -- saying they provide an avenue for those seeking influence to curry the president’s favor.

An attorney for Trump, Sherri Dillon, said in January that a new ethics adviser and compliance counsel at the Trump Organization, which the president’s two older sons are now running, would address the appearance of conflicts better than full divestment.

Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago raised national security concerns in February, after photos emerged on social media appearing to show the president conferring with aides and Japanese officials in the club’s open-air dining room, in view of patrons, after a North Korean missile test. The episode prompted a review by the Government Accountability Office of security and government spending at the club, according to a statement by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who requested the probe.

In a letter accompanying CREW’s Friday’s release, the Justice Department indicated that other records existed but were not subject to disclosure. The department didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.

"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," wrote Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, and Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA."

Mar-a-Lago doubled its membership fee to $200,000 in January, the same month that Trump was inaugurated. More recently, several charities have pulled out of events at the resort amid Trump’s sliding approval rating and inflammatory statements.

CREW, the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute sued DHS in April for the Mar-a-Lago records -- as well as visitor logs for the White House and Trump Tower -- after Trump said he wouldn’t release the lists. Former President Barack Obama also refused requests for White House logs until CREW sued his administration. The government then announced it would release them with a delay.

Litigation over Trump’s White House records is ongoing. DHS has said it doesn’t have records for Trump’s New York home, according to CREW.

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