CREW has been involved in litigation against the Bush and Obama White Houses concerning both the preservation of electronic records and White House visitor logs.
CREW’s letter follows a June 25, 2010 New York Times article revealing that White House staff routinely use their personal email accounts rather than their official White House accounts to communicate with lobbyists to avoid any public scrutiny of this correspondence. In addition, top White House staff meet with lobbyists at off-campus locations, including a coffee shop catty-corner to the White House, to avoid having the visits memorialized in White House visitor logs.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated, “It is outrageous that White House staff are deliberately using personal email accounts – in violation of the law – to hide the fact that they are in touch with lobbyists.” Sloan continued, “This is what all the administration’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets you – less transparency. Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it’s really talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials are meeting with.”
Under federal records laws, White House staff are required to preserve all emails relating to official business. As part of the settlement of CREW’s email suit, the White House revamped its electronic records management system to capture all federal and presidential records and claimed its current system prevents employees from accessing private email accounts. Although last spring it was revealed that White House aide Andrew McLaughlin had consulted with his former colleagues at Google about policy matters using his private email address, the White House said the breach was “inadvertent” and had “no influence on policy decisions within the federal government.” The Times report undermines that claim.
The Obama administration settled CREW’s lawsuit over White House visitor logs by agreeing to post all visitor logs online and has frequently touted having the most transparent White House in history. “While off-campus meetings with lobbyists are not necessarily illegal,” Sloan noted, “they do suggest the White House can’t live with its own anti-lobbyist standards, but won’t admit to that. This is a way for the White House to hide exactly how much its top staffers do meet with lobbyists.” She concluded, “Congressional hearings would force the administration to come clean with the American people.”