The White House is being pressured to retroactively disclose its virtual Zoom visitors since January, writes Axios.
While the administration of President Joe Biden has begun to disclose in-person visitors - a practice earlier abandoned by predecessor Donald Trump – the change has not affected the virtual visitors log, says the outlet.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic a great deal of the work has been driven into the online realm, with transparency advocates claiming the White House must lift the lid of secrecy on the identity of virtual visitors going back to Joe Biden's Inauguration Day – 20 January 2021.
Approved on Tuesday by the Democrat-led House Appropriations Committee, a report accompanying a general government appropriations bill urges the White House to produce virtual visitor logs.
"[T]he Committee is concerned that social-distancing procedures and the resulting increase in virtual meetings will limit the amount of relevant disclosures and harm the public interest," said the House Committee.
The report, which is not legally binding, directed presidential staff to brief the committee on its efforts by autumn.
"Report language does not have statutory force, (so) departments and agencies are not legally bound by their declarations. These documents do, however, explain congressional intent, and executive branch agencies take them seriously because they must justify their budget requests annually to the Appropriations committees," according to the Congressional Research Service.
In a statement emailed to Axios, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who chairs the Appropriations panel on financial services and general government, slammed lack of virtual visitor logs "a loophole" in the White House's transparency efforts.
"While I am very encouraged that the Biden Administration reinstated the policy of publicly disclosing their White House visitor logs in May, I look forward to working with them to establish virtual visitor logs to ensure and expand accountability in the executive branch," wrote Quigley.
While earlier White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration had no plans to disclose virtual visitors, there has not yet been any official comment from the WH on the developments.
In 2017 the administration of Donald Trump announced it would not disclose the Workers and Visitors Entry System logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with predecessor Barack Obama’s practice.
White House communications director Michael Dubke at the time said the decision was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
The administration of the then-POTUS said it was relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
According to Trump-era White House officials, the Obama records presented an incomplete picture of who interacted with the Administration.
“It did create more of a façade of transparency rather than complete transparency,” an official was cited as saying at the time by Time magazine.