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President Donald Trump must release certain records of visitors to his Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida by early September, a federal judge ruled late Friday in a suit filed by a prominent government watchdog group.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced Monday that the judge had ruled the Secret Service must turn over the records as part of an ongoing suit the group brought against the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year.
“The Secret Service will complete its search for and processing of ‘responsive records of presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago,’ and produce any non-exempt responsive records, by September 8, 2017,” the two-page ruling, issued by a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York judge, stated.
In April, CREW, along with the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, sued DHS under the Freedom of Information Act for not disclosing Trump’s presidential visitor logs at Mar-a-Lago.
According to CREW, the Secret Service, a branch of Homeland Security, keeps such logs but refused to turn them over.
CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz told NBC News Monday that his group would “release whatever we’re going to get” but said it was unlikely the identities and personal information of private guests of members other than Trump would be released.
“If the government refers to you as a presidential visitor to Mar-a-Lago, we are going to get and release that information,” he said, adding, “we don’t know exactly what the logs are going to turn up.”
Trump retreated to his Mar-a-Lago resort for seven of his first 14 weekends in office, entertaining foreign heads of state such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and golfing with undisclosed partners — an activity aides rarely confirm despite requests from White House reporters to know when he golfs and who joins him on the course.
While Trump has turned over control of his businesses to his sons, critics have pointed out that Mar-a-Lago's initiation fees doubled to $200,000 after his election and that the president's frequent appearances at the club he's dubbed the "Winter White House" could provide unique access to him for those who can pay. Trump earned $37.2 million from Mar-a-Lago last year, according to his most recent financial disclosure form — a nearly 25 percent increase from the previous year.
“The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement Monday.
“We are glad that as a result of this case, this information will become public for meetings at his personal residences — but it needs to be public for meetings at the White House as well,” added Bookbinder.
In April, the Trump administration said it would refuse to voluntarily disclose its White House visitor logs, breaking with an Obama-era precedent of doing so.
The Obama administration began voluntarily disclosing its visitor records in 2009 after CREW sued and won. Obama's White House, however, reserved the right to redactrecords of visitors that were personal guests not involved in official or political business, as well as records related to "particularly sensitive meetings."