WASHINGTON – A federal judge ruled on Monday that White House visitor logs are public records and ordered the Secret Service to turn over information regarding the visits of nine prominent Christian leaders to an advocacy group.
The ruling is in response to a suit by a government watchdog group suspicious about the amount of influence the conservative leaders have on the Bush administration.
"We think that these conservative Christian leaders have had a very big impact," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which filed the case, according to Reuters.
"The White House doesn't want to talk about how much influence these leaders have, and we want to talk about how much they do have," she said.
The judge has ordered the Secret Service to produce the records to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics within 20 days, according to CNN.
Among the visitation records requested are those of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, Gary Bauer of American Values, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America and the Moral Majority co-founder Jerry Falwell, who died in May.
The Secret Service, which is responsible for creating the logs, has argued that disclosing the records would reveal confidential policy deliberations. It also argued that the records are not under its control but are protected presidential documents.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the arguments as "misguided," according to Reuters.
"Knowledge of these visitors would not disclose presidential communications or shine a light on the President's or Vice President's policy deliberations," Lamberth wrote in his opinion, as reported by The Washington Post.
CREW had also filed separate petitions for White House visitor logs regarding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last year to public corruption charges.
The Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the agency is reviewing the ruling and has not decided whether to file an appeal.
Conservative Christian leaders remain the core supporter of President Bush, even as his national public approval falls. Many of these same Christian leaders under scrutiny helped mobilized voters to elect and re-elect Bush into office.