Story highlights

In 2012, Trump suggested Obama was "hiding" something by not releasing records

Spicer says the President is still under audit, won't release tax returns yet

CNN  — 

Back in 2012, then-private citizen Donald Trump had some thoughts about President Barack Obama’s much-ballyhooed claim to be the most transparent chief executive ever.

On October 30, 2012, Trump tweeted this: “Why does Obama believe he shouldn’t comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something?

The following day, he offered this variation on the theme: “Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President–ever–and he ran on transparency.”

(At issue at the time was the (debunked) claim that Obama had moved to seal his college and law school records.)

Fast-forward to 2017. Not only does Trump’s administration continue to insist he is under audit and therefore cannot release his tax returns (he can), but they also have decided to reverse a policy of releasing White House visitor logs put in place during Obama’s administration.

The explanation regarding the visitors log decision offered by White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday afternoon strains the bounds of credulity – and that’s being kind.

Let’s break down Spicer’s comments.

What he said: “We’re following the same policy that every administration from the beginning of time has used with respect to visitors log. We will comply with the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Acts, as stated by law.”

What it means: Those records acts have to do with not destroying visitor logs and the like. They have nothing to do with why the White House decided not to release the logs publicly in real time. (Don’t trust me? Read the Presidential Records Act yourself!)

What he said: “It’s the same policy that every administration had up until the Obama administration. And, frankly, the – the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub who they didn’t want put out, didn’t serve anyone well.”

What it means: It is true that Obama broke with past history in deciding to release the White House visitor logs publicly (and online!). And Sean is also right that the Obama White House didn’t exactly bend over backward in every instance to fulfill records requests.

What he said: “We recognize that there’s a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come express their views. And that’s why we maintain the same policy that every other administration did coming up here prior to the last one.”

What it means: Certain people won’t come to the White House if they know their names will be released publicly. Or at least we think so.

OK. Here’s thing: To buy what Spicer is selling, you have to believe that no transparency is better than some less-than-perfect transparency. That the Obama administration’s decision to publicly release most – if not all – visitors to the White House was somehow a less transparent move than the Trump administration’s decision to release none of that information.

Which is, in a word, ridiculous.

Then there’s the fact that Trump, wrongly, claimed that Obama was “sealing” his college records because he was hiding something. That Trump is now unwilling to match Obama’s record of transparency – which was far from stellar – would suggest, under Trump’s logic, that he must be hiding something, right?

But, of course not – at least in the mind of Trump. He is not a believer in the old adage that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. His life motto is more like: “What’s good for Donald Trump is good for Donald Trump.”

Make no mistake: Trump won’t lose any large number – or even small number – of votes over this decidedly un-transparent decision. Most people don’t even know that a detailed log of who comes to the White House is kept, much less that there is a debate over whether those logs should be released.

That still doesn’t make it a) consistent with his past criticisms on transparency or b) right.