Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Secret Service Was Told To Delete VP Visitor Logs

A lawyer for Vice President Dick Cheney told the Secret Service in September to eliminate data on who visited Cheney at his official residence, a newly disclosed letter states. The Sept. 13, 2006, letter from Cheney's lawyer says logs for Cheney's residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory are subject to the Presidential Records Act.

Such a designation prevents the public from learning who visited the vice president.

The Justice Department filed the letter Friday in a lawsuit by a private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, seeking the identities of conservative religious leaders who visited Cheney at his official residence.

The newly disclosed letter about visitors to Cheney's residence is accompanied by an 18-page Secret Service document revealing the agency's long-standing practice has been to destroy printed daily access lists of visitors to the residence.

Separately, the agency says it has given Cheney's office handwritten logs of who visits him at his personal residence.

Because of pending lawsuits, the Secret Service says it is now keeping copies of all material on visitors to Cheney's residence. According to the Secret Service document, Cheney's office has approved the agency's retention of the records, while maintaining they are presidential records subject to Cheney's control.

"The latest filings make clear that the administration has been destroying documents and entering into secret agreements in violation of the law," said Anne Weismann, CREW's chief counsel.

Regarding visitor information, the Secret Service "shall not retain any copy of these documents and information" once the material is given to the office of the vice president, says the September 2006 letter by Shannen Coffin, counsel to the vice president.

"If any documents remain in your possession, please return them to OVP as soon as possible," the letter added. ...

The letter regarding the vice president's residence was in addition to an agreement quietly signed between the White House and the Secret Service a year ago when questions were raised about visits to the executive compound by convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff.

That agreement, which didn't surface publicly until late last year, said White House entry and exit logs were presidential records not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

When the agreement was signed in May 2006, a number of private groups and news organizations had filed FOIA requests with the Secret Service in an effort to identify how many times Abramoff or members of his lobbying team visited the White House.

The Washington Post -- which had filed a lawsuit seeking to use the FOIA to pry these records out of the Vice President's office -- in January of this year abruptly dropped their litigation and let the matter drop.

The Washington Post has quietly retreated from a legal battle with Vice President Cheney by dropping a lawsuit demanding Secret Service logs of visitors to his office and residence.

The newspaper's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit prompted a flurry of press attention and court action just prior to the November election. In October, a district court judge in the capital, Ricardo Urbina, cited the looming vote when he ordered the Secret Service to comply immediately with the Post's request. However, just six days before the election, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay blocking Judge Urbina's order.

"We have decided not to pursue litigation further, though we believe we would have prevailed in the court of appeals as we did in the trial court," a Post attorney, Eric Lieberman, said in an e-mail yesterday. He said the paper had "a fundamental goal" of getting the records to inform voters before the election and failed in that regard.

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