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Investigation Finds Gaping Holes in 'Transparent' White House Visitor Logs

"very thin gruel"

Remember that transparency award the president received in secret last month? Well, it appears it wasn't based on the way the White House keeps its visitor logs.

According to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, the logs are missing droves of people and information. Politico reports they are missing celebrities as well as "the names of thousands of other visitors to the White House, including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, policy experts and friends of the first family." That's despite the White House website's claim that the logs contain “over 1,000,000 records of everyone who’s come through the doors of the White House" (emphasis added).

Here's what the center's investigation found:

• The “event” description in the logs is blank for more than 205,000 visits, including many that involved small meetings with the president and his key aides.

• Five junior staff aides together received more than 4,440 visits. By contrast, then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, famed for his workaholic schedule, is listed as having fewer than 500 visits.

• Less than 1 percent of the estimated 500,000 visits to the White House in Obama’s first eight months — a time when the new administration was bustling with activity — have been disclosed, according to the Center’s analysis.

• The logs include names of people cleared by the Secret Service for White House entry who apparently never showed up. The Center analysis found more than 200,000 visits with no time of arrival, an indication that the person didn’t enter the White House, though there is no way to be certain. For instance, actor Ryan Gosling is listed at a West Wing event with members of his band, Dead Man’s Bones, in October 2009. But Gosling’s representative, Carolyn Govers, said the actor did not go.

• Two-thirds of the more than 1 million names listed are people who passed through parts of the White House on guided group tours.

And just who do you think the data reveals has been a frequent visitor without much explanation? You guessed it: AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka -- the man who says he visits once a week:

AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has been logged in at least four dozen times, often with other labor bigwigs, but the records tell why he was there in only 12 of those cases, and those are mostly ceremonial events or social functions. Twice last year, Trumka met privately with Obama and once with Vice President Joe Biden, the records show, but no details are given. The AFL-CIO declined to comment.

Besides leaving out information, Politico reveals another popular end-around -- claiming to be visiting a junior staffer:

Another practice calling into question the veracity of the logs: Junior White House staff members routinely list themselves as the “visitee,” or person being visited, when in fact the visitor has arrived to see someone higher up the chain of command.

The practice appears to apply to the commander in chief in some instances.

Reggie Love is recorded as receiving nearly 300 visits in the West Wing of the White House. Love is Obama’s personal assistant, the young aide who is constantly at the president’s side. Celebrities like NBA star Kobe Bryant and some Obama friends are listed as visitors to Love.

In addition, nearly two dozen campaign fundraisers and their family members are listed as visiting Love. The records give no hint as to who else they saw once they entered the White House or the purpose of their meetings. Among them was Hildy Kuryk, a New York fundraiser for Obama who now is deputy national finance director of the Democratic National Committee.

The White House's response? The logs are not meant as an archive, and the administration has taken "unprecedented steps to increase transparency by releasing visitor records."

True. Kind of. As Politico notes: "However, the White House agreed to release the data only as a result of settling a lawsuit."

“If this is transparency, who needs it?” Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Politico. According to him, the logs are “very thin gruel.”

It seems the White House visitor logs are so transparent you can't even see parts of them.

Read more interesting details and examples at Politico.

Read the Center for Public Integrity's write-up on the report here (which was adapted for the Politico article).

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