The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 17, 2017
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 4/17/2017, #38[excerpts on transparency]
Q Thanks, Sean. What was their view of the White House visitor logs? What's the extent of that review?
MR. SPICER: I'm sorry, what was --
Q What was the extent of their view of the White House visitor logs? What made you change your mind to not continue releasing them?
MR. SPICER: I think as was noted on Friday, we're following the same policy that every administration from the beginning of time has used with respect to visitor logs. We will comply with both the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act as stated by law.
Q So why does the President object to people knowing who is coming in the White House?
MR. SPICER: It's not a question of objecting. It's about following the law. We're following the law as both the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records act prescribe it. So it's the same policy that every administration had up until the Obama administration, and, frankly, the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub what they didn't want put out, didn't serve anyone well.
The President wants to make sure that people can come in the same way that they can go into a member of Congress's office, provide information and details. And there's people who want to be able to come have that conversation with members of the administration, the same way that they would do with members of Congress -- go into their office --
Q But why didn't he take this opportunity to one-up the transparency game? If Obama was so bad at it --
MR. SPICER: Because -- I think I'm trying to explain that to you -- I think that we recognize that there's a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come express their views. And that's why we maintain the same policy that every other administration did coming up here prior to the last one. And the last one, frankly, was a faux level of doing that, because when you go through and you scrub everyone's name out that you don't want everyone to know, that really is not an honest attempt at doing it.
We are going to follow the law the way that every administration has followed up until the last one.
Q Thanks, Sean. Following on Kaitlan's question, the rationale given Friday for the visitor logs reversal was for national security and privacy concerns. Both of those were clear exemptions in the Obama administration's policy which led to that scrubbing that you described. So why exactly the reversal? You seem to be describing maybe a third rationale that you're giving.
MR. SPICER: No, I think I just touched on privacy, that people have a right --
Q The Obama administration had that exception to their visitor logs.
MR. SPICER: But I think the problem, Zeke, is that we don't know what the -- I mean, they said what it was, but you don't know who got left off and who didn't. They chose to not put people out for whatever reason, and they gave an excuse and no one questioned it.
So the question is -- but I think the bottom line is, as I said to Kaitlan, is that we're going to have the same policy that every President has had through time and comply with the law on both fronts.
But again, you remember -- it's interesting that we're following basically the same thing that members of Congress follow. You go in and you meet with a member of Congress right now, that there's an option for people to go in and express their opinion. If they want to make it public, who's meeting with them -- and in a lot of cases we do, we bring in you guys to probably a greater extent than has happened before in terms of the pool spray. We list participant lists.
But I think there's an opportunity sometimes for American people who want to come in and have a conversation and not become -- and be able to share their view.
So again -- but remember, this is the same policy that every President and every administration has followed.
Q I'll grant you that --
MR. SPICER: Thank you.
Q -- but this President entered office running a campaign saying he was going to "drain the swamp." So under this existing policy, a lobbyist -- the President has decried on the campaign trail -- Washington insider, members of the swamp can walk into the White House and there is no recourse for the public to hold the President to account --
MR. SPICER: I think you guys -- but the visitor logs to all the White House components -- OMB, the Council of Economic Equality, U.S. Trade Representative, Office of Science and Technology --
MR. SPICER: Huh? What I'm saying is all those are subject to the Federal Records Act. We're complying with all that and we're complying with the Presidential Record Act.
My point is, that, look, this is the policy that's existed from the beginning of time since they were kept through the last one. And the last one was a faux attempt at that. Again, it's not really being transparent when you scrub out the names of the people that you don't want anyone to know were here.
And so I think that we've made a decision to stay in line with the law and follow the same procedures that everyone else has maintained.
Q Thanks, Sean. With tax filing day coming up, is the President going to release his 2016 tax returns, given that we can assume, maybe, that those are not themselves under audit, which is the --
MR. SPICER: No, you can't. They are. I think it's been covered before. It's the same thing that was discussed during the campaign trail. The President is under audit. It's a routine one that continues. And I think that the American public know clearly where he stands. This was something that he made very clear during the election cycle.
Q And to --
MR. SPICER: Hold on. And then so -- and the one time that it was done I think the people understand how successful the President has been and how much he's paid in taxes. But we're under the same audit that existed, and so nothing has changed.
Q And as you know, the IRS never comments on individual taxpayer information. This obviously is an extraordinary case involving the President of the United States. The President could authorize the IRS, presumably, to go ahead and confirm that he's under audit and to give us some details about that audit -- what years, how long is this expected to take, et cetera. Will the President authorize the IRS to confirm that he is indeed under audit?
MR. SPICER: I think the President's view on this has been very clear from the campaign, and the American people understood it when they elected him in November.
Q I've got a question on North Korea and China, but first to follow up on the tax question. You've been asked about this obviously a thousand times. You always talk about under audit -- the President is still under audit. Is it time to say once and for all the President is never going to release his tax returns?
MR. SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.
Q I mean, is he -- I mean, really?
MR. SPICER: Really.
Q He may?
MR. SPICER: No, I said I'd have to get back to you on that. I think that he's still under audit; the statement still stands.
Q Sean, on both the taxes and the visitor logs, there are now ethics experts on both sides of the aisle who say this is the least transparent administration in decades. How do you respond?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that we've taken several steps to allow people access to this White House in terms of -- in particular the press. We hold regular pool sprays. We bring people in. We release participant lists. We give press the opportunity to come into the room, see everybody who's there. You're part of the discussion. So I would respectfully disagree with that.
Q On a separate issue, about the President's continued travel to Mar-a-Lago or any other place where he's conducting official business. Does the White House believe that those other locations should be treated like this building in the sense that you guys will be transparent about who he's meeting with and what kind of official business he's conducting while he's there? Is that a commitment that you all are willing to make?
MR. SPICER: I think we've been fairly consistent with reading out who he's meeting with and what he's done, providing the pool access to his whereabouts and what he's doing. I think we generally do. Obviously, the President has time to spend with family and he makes phone calls. We generally provide readouts of those phone calls with foreign leaders, whether he's here or in Florida.
So I think we've done a fairly good job of making sure that people know who he's meeting with, who he's speaking to, and when appropriate, the contents of those calls.
Q But, Sean, long stretches of time go by and we get pool reports from the pooler saying, we've been asking the White House for information about what the President is doing and we don't get that information. We can't even get an answer to whether he's golfing or not these days.
MR. SPICER: I understand that there are some days you don't get it as quick as you want, but --
Q Some days we never get it.
MR. SPICER: Okay, but with all due respect, Julie, he's entitled to have moments with his family and private time. So I think, respectfully, I would disagree. I think we do a very good job of getting you information, of bringing you along to events, whether he's here or at a location or even going out to dinner. We've lived up to that. I think the President is entitled to have some times with his family and friends to just catch up.
Q But then that's the difference then to what you're saying to Abby, which is that you are providing that information.
MR. SPICER: No, but what I'm saying is, her question was about official business. And when he does have a call and when he does meet with advisors, we generally put it out. But when he's meeting internally, in the same way that when he's meeting here with his staff, we don't read out every staff meeting that's going on. And so when he's down, traveling, and he's having meetings -- whether it's on Air Force One or wherever -- that's what his staff does, is they provide him updates and policy briefings and give him an opportunity to make key decisions with their insight into a particular issue. That's what all Presidents do.
And I think that I would respectfully suggest that we have done a really good job of making sure that the pool in particular is provided information in terms of his whereabouts, and then we've provided background briefings on issues that are coming up -- where we're going, why we're going, what we intend to do.
So I get that there's always going to be this back-and-forth, you guys are going to always want more. And I think that we've tried to do what we can to get you that information.
Source: The White House