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Despite a lawsuit demanding the records be released, the Trump Administration has refused to unveil the visitor logs from the president’s Florida retreat.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is refusing to release the names of most of the people who spent time at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort during his frequent and sometimes eventful visits to his private Florida club.

On Friday, Justice Department lawyers said the Secret Service’s records about those visitors concern the president’s schedule and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The lawyers said they planned to argue in court to keep the information secret.

Administration officials did release the names of 22 people tied to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the club in February. But the agency’s refusal to disclose the names of other visitors drew immediate criticism from the ethics watchdogs who had sued for the release of visitor logs. They pledged to continue the court fights.

“Trump’s secrecy rides again,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The National Security Archive, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Knight First Amendment Institute filed the lawsuit and U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla ordered the government to disclose by Friday any information it agreed was covered by the open-records law.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the administration’s refusal to release more names “was spitting in the eye of transparency.” 

Blanton said Justice Department lawyers, who successfully sought a week-long extension, gave indications they would release more visitor information. “I can only conclude the Trump White House intervened with the career lawyers,” he said.

A White House spokeswoman referred questions to the Department of Justice. Spokesmen for the Justice and Homeland Security departments declined to discuss pending litigation.

Trump, who has refused to relinquish ownership of his real-estate, branding and hotel empire while in office, often conducts official business at his properties. He has spent 25 days of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., which his aides have dubbed the “Winter White House.”

From the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the White House had sought to keep the records from Mar-a-Lago secret. The Trump administration also ended an Obama-era practice of disclosing Secret Service logs of visitors to the White House, and does not share information about the membership of the president’s private clubs or his interactions with golf partners and others at Trump-owned properties.

A recent USA TODAY investigation found that dozens of lobbyists, contractors and others seeking to influence the government are members of Trump’s golf clubs. The president’s continued ownership of these clubs gives wealthy interests the chance to have close contact with the president in return for initiation fees and annual dues that enrich him personally.

In February, Trump drew attention — and denunciations from some Democrats — for huddling with his aides and Abe on an open-air patio at the club as they rushed to respond to a North Korean missile launch. Club members dining nearby posted pictures of the scene on social media.

Friday’s release offers a picture into the size of the delegation that accompanied Abe and his wife to Mar-a-Lago for the high-profile summit. Other visitors included Japan’s ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae, van drivers, an official photographer and Abe’s butler.

In February, White House officials said Trump would personally pay Abe’s tab at Mar-a-Lago, and other members of the delegation would stay elsewhere.

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