The Bush administration asked an appeals court Wednesday to overrule a federal judge and allow the White House to keep secret any records of visitors to Vice President Dick Cheney's residence and office.
To make the visitor records public would be an "unprecedented intrusion into the daily operations of the vice presidency," the Justice Department argued in a 57-page brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.
The government was responding to an October order, by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, to release two years of White House visitor logs to The Washington Post. The newspaper, researching the access lobbyists and others had on the White House, sought Secret Service records for anyone visiting Cheney, his legal counsel, chief spokesman and other top aides and advisers.
In his ruling, Urbina questioned the government's primary argument against releasing the records — that the logs are protected by Cheney's right to executive privilege.
The government's response Wednesday was twofold, focusing largely on the ownership of the records.
Attorneys for the Justice Department called Urbina's decision "flatly inconsistent" with his ruling's acknowledgment that the Secret Service had only limited and temporary control over the visitor logs. Since the records are ultimately controlled by the vice president's office, the Secret Service is not authorized to release them, the government said.
Moreover, Congress has excluded presidential and vice presidential records from the public's reach — making the visitor logs untouchable, the government said.
"There is thus no dispute that, for example, appointment calendars maintained by the office of the vice president, revealing the identities of visitors and the time of their visits, would not be subject to disclosure," the Justice Department said in its response.
An attorney for The Washington Post said he had not seen the government's response and declined to comment.
A lawsuit over similar records revealed in September that Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed — key figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal — landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House.