By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A coalition of nonprofit groups on Monday sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to obtain logs of visitors to President Donald Trump’s homes.
The lawsuit accused the Secret Service, which maintains the logs, of violating the law by ignoring several requests for lists of visitors to the White House, Trump Tower in Manhattan, and the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Monday’s complaint was filed in Manhattan federal court by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the National Security Archive, and archive researcher Kate Doyle.
The plaintiffs had requested the logs under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Similar litigation by CREW in 2009 prompted the Obama administration to disclose White House visitor logs on a delayed basis, and according to the complaint led to the release of 5.99 million records.
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Secret Service, said the department does not discuss pending litigation. The lawsuit was reported earlier by the Washington Post.
The website where White House visitor logs were available went dark after Trump became president.
That page now reads: “This page is being updated. It will post records of White House visitors on an ongoing basis, once they become available.” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/disclosures/visitor-records)
Several Democratic lawmakers last month called on Trump, a Republican, to make logs public again.
Many FOIA lawsuits against federal agencies are filed in Washington rather than New York.
But in August 2013, the federal appeals court in Washington said Congress did not intend to authorize FOIA requesters to obtain records “indirectly” from the Secret Service that they could not obtain directly from the President.
That decision involved a request by the conservative group Judicial Watch for records of all White House visitors over seven months.
It was written by Chief Judge Merrick Garland, whose Supreme Court nomination by Obama was never acted upon by Congress.
Federal judges in Manhattan can use Garland’s opinion for guidance, but need not follow it.
The case is Doyle et al v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-02542.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)