Vice President Al Gore's office has been stonewalling requests to provide a list of persons who have been overnight guests at his official residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
Gore officials have insisted that all guests have been merely “close friends and relatives from Tennessee,” and that no such list exists. They have also refused to compile such information, citing the White House’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.
Both the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and President Clinton have made public their lists of overnight guests at the governor’s mansion and at the White House Lincoln Bedroom, respectively. Bush and Clinton also insisted their guests were close friends and family, but the Center for Public Integrity discovered that in some cases the guests were among the candidates’ top political contributors. The Gore campaign strongly criticized Bush after the Center’s story about sleepover guests in Austin was released in March.
After an initial call to the vice president’s office in the White House on May 24, the Center was told to contact the office of Tipper Gore, the vice president’s wife, and to talk to her communications director, Camille Johnston. The Center was told that she would be able to address the inquiry. After an exchange of phone messages, Johnston told the Center on June 5 that such a guest list did not exist, as the only visitors ever to stay at the mansion had been “close friends and relatives from Tennessee,” with the exception of film director Steven Spielberg, who had stayed one night. That same phrase—“close friends and relatives”—had been used by the Bush campaign to attempt to explain why sleepover guests at the Texas Governor’s Mansion had raised more than $2.2 million for Bush’s political career.
The Center then went to the Navy, since it maintains the observatory and the mansion, and filed a Freedom of Information Act request there. The request was filed through the Navy’s FOIA Web site on June 5, but was initially lost in the Navy’s computer system. It was eventually found on June 26. On July 12, the head of the Navy’s FOIA branch, Doris Lama, told the Center that while the Navy did not have access to the requested information, the Center could contact a man at the mansion who “has the list” and who “routinely gives it out.” Upon calling Philip Dufour of the Vice Presidents Residence staff, the Center was told to send in a written request for the list, and was given a fax number at the White House to send it to. Several days later, Dufour told the Center that he had talked to Camille Johnston and that “she has already given [the Center] what there is” and that no such list of overnight guests existed. When asked why Lama had said Dufour had the list and routinely gave it out, Dufour said, “She doesn’t know what she is talking about.” Dufour suggested contacting the vice president’s lawyers at the White House to see about compiling a list of overnight guests.
Fern Mosely, associate counsel in the Office of the Vice President at the White House, told the Center on July 17 that “there is nothing else for us to give out.” While acknowledging that the Navy does run the property (and therefore would be subject to a FOIA request such as the one submitted by the Center), Mosely said, “I don’t think the Navy was wrong in directing you to the [vice president’s] residence.” It certainly wasn’t; when asked whether the White House would be willing to compile a list of overnight guests, Mosely responded, “We’re not going to create a list for that because were not subject to FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act].” Mosely said she would be glad to check with Camille Johnston to see whether the White House could be persuaded to release the information in the public interest, rather than under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act.
The Navy’s Lama, for her part, is confused. “Im really annoyed at the response you [the Center] got [from the mansion staff],” she said. Lama said she spoke personally with Dufour, who told her specifically that the Center’s request would not be a problem and that such information was “given out routinely.” She said she did not know why Dufour changed his tune after talking with Camille Johnston. After the Center reported on overnight guests at the Texas Governors Mansion, Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway was quoted as saying, “Of course he [Bush] calls them [the overnight guests] his friends. George Bush never met a fat cat contributor he didn’t like.”