Carney Dodges Lobbying Questions


White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked a series of questions today based on the Politico story I blogged about earlier.

Carney refuses to answer whether the White House has any guidance on when it’s appropriate to schedule meetings that occur outside the reach of the visitor logs records. I doubt there’s any formal guidance, but instead that whoever sets up a meeting thinks about the meeting’s potential disclosure in the same way you might consider who is invited, how big the meeting might be, or what the agenda should be. In other words, these decisions are probably made as a matter of course.

Rather than engaging with detail in the question, or sidestepping it altogether, Carney attacks the idea that anyone would question the administration’s commitment to transparency:

The suggestion that we’re not being transparent is laughable given the unbelievable precedent this administration has set in its — closing the door, the revolving door, and releasing these records.

The tone of this response reads to me like insecurity.

If the White House feels vulnerable on lobbying reform, then they should avoid obfuscating on real questions about how the visitor logs policies work.

Of course, the fastest way to make these questions go away is to say that the visitor logs release is incidental (not essential) to the lobbying disclosure fight, and that Obama is going to actually push for lobbying reform in Congress.

The back and forth in question is below:

Q Given the President’s commitment to transparency, is there any guidance White House officials get about when it’s appropriate to meet off campus with a lobbyist and when a lobbyist meeting should be on campus?

MR. CARNEY: This administration has taken extraordinary actions to be transparent. I think this question stems from a story that, frankly, was absurd. We release hundreds of thousands of records voluntarily, a policy instituted by this President because of his desire for transparency — something no administration had ever done before. The decisions about where — and those records are available to every American citizen online to be reviewed, and all different types of people come to the White House complex for meetings on issues. And our level of transparency and disclosure is unprecedented because the President believes deeply in it.

What I would say is that, as any of you who have walked around this complex know, been in the West Wing — not like the TV show; very small space, very few meeting rooms. The Old Executive Office Building — the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a third of which has been under renovation since we’ve been here — very limited space. Jackson Place is a White House conference center — so designated — and therefore when we have large meetings sometimes we use that space if there are no spaces here.

So that’s —

Q But would you agree that there’s effectively a transparency loophole here, if the goal is to show when lobbyists, powerful interests, are meeting with White House officials, that right now it’s routine for White House officials to meet off campus with these people and there’s no daylight on that?

MR. CARNEY: It is routine for the White House officials to meet with all types of people, including lobbyists, and frequently here. The suggestion that we’re not being transparent is laughable given the unbelievable precedent this administration has set in its — closing the door, the revolving door, and releasing these records. There are no — the WAVES system, which is the system that produces the records, operates in certain buildings and not others. And for those decisions, how that operates and why, I refer you to the United States Secret Service. But the principle here is the unprecedented level of transparency that we have provided because we believe deeply in it.

Q Would it be inappropriate for a White House official to intentionally arrange a meeting off campus to not be caught by the WAVES records?

MR. CARNEY: Look, we have meetings with all sorts of people. We have them here. Those records are available.

Q But would it be appropriate if you choose to go off campus because you didn’t want it to show up in the files? It’s yes or no.

MR. CARNEY: The guiding principle here is transparency, and we believe that — nobody is, that I’m aware of, is hiding where they’re meeting. The meetings that happen at Jackson Place, it’s a big meeting place and that’s where —

Q If it’s so big, why not change the policy and release those names —

MR. CARNEY: We do not control where the WAVES is. And I’m not going to — in terms of —

Q You could release them separately. You could change the policy.

MR. CARNEY: Well, Chip, look, I’m not aware what policies might be instituted in the future. But what I think is fundamentally important to remind you of is that we release information that has never been released before. I think you probably remember, you were covering the previous administration. They went to court, to the Supreme Court, to prevent the disclosure of people who were meeting with the Vice President. We voluntarily release the records that are available to us. And we never said that there was a way to get every name in every meeting. The principle is disclosure, and we have gone to extraordinary lengths to make that happen.

Q Would you consider changing the policy to increase disclosure?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to predict about future policies that may be put in place. I just want to remind everybody about what we’ve done and why.