President Donald Trump's administration refused to release visitor logs from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that would provide the identities of those who have visited the president while he has stayed there. And on Friday, the government complied - with a whole 22 names.
On a weekend in early March, during one of seven trips by Trump and his White House entourage to the posh Palm Beach property since the inauguration, the government paid the Trump-owned club to reserve at least one bedroom for two nights.
Needless to say, this didn't satisfy those trying to access the department's full visitor logs. The groups included Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, according to New York Daily News.
Trump's habit of visiting his properties has generated newfound public interest in who patronizes those establishments. The pricey stay appears to violate the domestic emoluments clause, which bars the president from lining his pockets with government cash. They were all contained in a single email from a U.S. State Department official to the Secret Service, asking them to allow these 22 people onto Mar-a-Lago grounds during Abe's visit.
Property of the People also obtained receipts showing payments by the U.S. Embassy to Trump's hotel in Panama, along with documentation of payments by unnamed federal employees to the president's hotels in Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas. "This was spitting the eye of the transparency". Judge Katherine Polk Failla agreed with CREW's argument that the lists ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and are therefore available for request under the Freedom of Information Act. Trump has so far spent 25 days at Mar-a-Lago, which he calls the "Winter White House", since taking office in January. On Sept. 15, DHS only released the names of 22 staffers of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who had accompanied him during his visit to Mar-a-Lago in February. "We will be fighting this in court", Bookbinder said.
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Manatee County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News. The interpreter - a lifeguard named Marshall Greene - apparently has a deaf brother.
In July, when the group announced it would get the records as part of ongoing litigation, Bookbinder argued "The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff", and said information about meetings at the White House should be public as well.
Another advocacy group, Property of the People, had more luck with its FOIA request looking into U.S. Coast Guard records on expenses surrounding Trump properties.
Trump stayed at Mar-a-Lago on March 3 and 4. He added, "The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court".
CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said his organization "vehemently" disagrees with the government's decision to only release a small portion of the visitor logs. It's not clear from the documents whether the Mar-a-Lago charge was a one-time occurrence, or if taxpayers are regularly paying for administration officials to stay at Trump properties.
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