White House defense: Visitor logs too unreliable to reveal whether Shulman actually visited 157 times

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
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The White House on Friday pushed back against news that former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times from 2009 to 2012.

Shulman is a central figure in the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, having led the agency while those groups were singled out for harassment.

When challenged last week by congressional investigators about just 118 of the 157 apparent White House visits, Shulman did not dispute the number, only identifying several reasons why he visited so often.

“Um, the Easter Egg Roll with my kids,” Shulman said. “Questions about the administrability of tax policy they were thinking of; our budget; us helping the Department of Education streamline application processes for financial aid.”

The Daily Caller first reported on Thursday that White House visitor access records show “Douglas Shulman” with 157 publicly disclosed visits in that time frame. By comparison, no Obama cabinet member comes close in terms of publicly disclosed visits.

The liberal Atlantic website published a piece Friday morning speculating that the number of Shulman’s actual White House visits could be as low as 11, despite widespread coverage of those revelations on Thursday.

“Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went,” wrote The Atlantic, suggesting that Shulman may have skipped out on up to 146 different White House meetings he was expected at — despite his name appearing on the visitors logs for those meetings.

The Atlantic offers no source for that claim, but Dan Pfeiffer — White House senior adviser to the president for strategy and communications — latched onto the article Friday morning on his official White House Twitter account. “Def Worth a Read,” Pfeiffer tweeted, marking the first time the White House has addressed Shulman’s unusually frequent visits.

The claim that White House visitor records might only show information about a visitor’s pre-clearance — and not an actual visit — is not something the White House reveals in its disclosure policy. Additionally, as TheDC has previously reported, not every visit by top administration officials requires that the official physically signs in.

Some visits by top officials are never even noted in the visitors logs. A comparison of the situation room photo from the night of the bin Laden raid — May 1, 2011 — to the visitor logs, for example, shows that several of the officials in the photo never appear in the public access records.

The White House voluntary disclosure policy does reveal that visitor names are often left off the logs for a variety of reasons — listed below — including personal visitors of the president and national security.

While the White House has fought to keep individuals who fall under those exceptions away from the public eye, Friday’s pushback against Shulman’s name appearing 157 times in the logs appears to mark the first time the White House has suggested that visitors who appear in the access records may not have visited at all.

The White House did not respond to The Daily Caller’s multiple requests for comment for clarification, for either this report or Thursday’s.

When asked about Pfeiffer’s tweet in the White House press briefing Friday afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest did not dispute that Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times, only saying that the president was committed to “transparency” and that most of the meetings Shulman attended involved Obamacare.

See the reasons why the White House says it leaves names off the visitors logs:

  1. The White House will not release fields within the access records that implicate personal privacy or law enforcement concerns (e.g., dates of birth, social security numbers, and contact phone numbers); records that implicate the personal safety of EOP staff (their daily arrival and departure); or records whose release would threaten national security interests.

  2. The White House will not release access records related to purely personal guests of the first and second families (i.e., visits that do not involve any official or political business).

  3. The White House will not release access records related to a small group of particularly sensitive meetings (e.g., visits of potential Supreme Court nominees).  The White House will disclose each month the number of records withheld on this basis, and it will release such records once they are no longer sensitive.

  4. Visitor information for the Vice President and his staff at the White House Complex will be disclosed pursuant to the policy outlined above.  It is not possible, however, to release visitor information for the Vice President’s Residence in an identical format to the White House Complex at this time because the Residence is not equipped with the WAVES and ACR systems that are in place at the White House Complex.  The Office of the Vice President will, instead, release the guest lists for official events at the Residence and will also review the Vice President’s and Dr. Biden’s daily schedules and release the names and dates of visitors to the Residence who appear on those schedules.  The Vice President’s staff is working with the Secret Service to upgrade the visitor records system at the Residence.  When the electronic update is complete, visitor information for the White House Complex and the Residence will be released in a common format.

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