Trump's Mar-a-Lago Records Leave Judge Shocked After Lawsuit Forces Their Submission
A federal judge indicated Wednesday that she was taken aback by how little information the government turned over in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about President Donald Trump’s visitors at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but she turned aside a request to rule that the authorities appeared to have violated a court order.
Pro-transparency groups cried foul last month when, just before a court-ordered deadline, Justice Department lawyers did not produce a large sheaf of Secret Service records about Trump’s contacts at what he has termed the Winter White House.
Instead, the government provided only a two-page document listing 22 members of the delegation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit in February.
The watchdog groups urged Judge Katherine Failla, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, to take action against the government, but in a brief order Wednesday she declined to do so.
“Having reviewed the parties’ submissions, the Court shares Plaintiffs’ surprise with the extent of Defendants’ production; however, the Court is unable to find that Plaintiffs have set forth sufficient grounds for the Court to impose sanctions or issue an order to show cause,” Failla wrote.
The suit was filed by the National Security Archive, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. In court papers, lawyers for the groups accused the government of what amounted to a bait-and-switch: suggesting that a significant volume of visitor records were coming, only to produce a paltry number at the deadline.
“The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court,” CREW’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said in a statement last month.
Lawyers from the the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan denied any effort to mislead. In a submission last week, they said that some records turned out not to be relevant for various reasons, and that others, including presidential schedules, had been deemed to be presidential records.
If that classification is correct, the files are not subject to FOIA but to the Presidential Records Act, which typically puts records off limits to the public for at least five years after a president leaves office.