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Profile: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
National Archives logo. [Source: public domain]Nixon aide John Ehrlichman suggests breaking into the National Archives. The mission: photograph secret documents Ehrlichman believes were deposited by former Kissinger aides Morton Halperin and Leslie Gelb, as well as Cold War policy adviser Paul Nitze. Ehrlichman says the operation can be carried out with the help of Robert Kunzig, the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). Kunzig “can send the archivist out of town for a while and we can get in there and we will photograph and he’ll reseal them.” It is unclear whether the mission is actually carried out. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 369-370]
On his final working day in office, President Nixon instructs the National Archives to keep his presidential papers sealed until January 1, 1985. Nixon has already bestowed a great number of papers, documents, and other materials to the Archives (and taken a controversial $432,000 tax deduction for the gift), but before today they had been slated to be released to public view at the end of his presidency—effectively August 10, 1974. Author James Reston Jr. will write, somewhat sardonically: “What presence of mind! Here was a president about to resign in disgrace and humiliation, who was cool enough to concern himself with frustrating the work of historians who would want to analyze him.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 61-62]
Young conservative White House lawyer John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), an advocate of expanded presidential powers (see June-July 1983 and October 1983), expands on his previous argument that the president’s papers and documents should remain secret and unavailable to the public (see February 13, 1984). Roberts writes that the Reagan administration should oppose a bill pending in Congress that would make the National Archives a separate agency, independent of the White House. Roberts writes that the “legislation could grant the archivist [the head of the National Archives] some independence from presidential control, with all the momentous constitutional consequences that would entail.” Others in the White House disagree with Roberts, and the administration does not oppose the bill. Roberts suggests that President Reagan attach a signing statement to the bill making it clear that Reagan has the power to fire the archivist if he/she tries to disobey the White House in releasing a presidential document. [Savage, 2007, pp. 258]
John Ehrlichman. [Source: PBS]After years of protracted legal wrangling, selected portions of former President Richard Nixon’s secret White House recordings (see July 13-16, 1973) are made public. In a January 2, 1997 panel discussion on PBS, two former Nixon aides, John Ehrlichman and Monica Crowley, and former New York Times reporter Tom Wicker, discuss the content and dissemination of the tapes. All three have listened to the released portions of the tapes, currently housed at the National Archives.
Context - Ehrlichman complains that the selections lack context: “The archivist has snipped little tiny segments, in some cases six or eight seconds, and you don’t know what was said before or after. And it’s tough on a listener.… I think there could be a lot more context given. What they’ve done is try and select out the things that embodied abuses of government power under their regulations, and that’s what they’re giving you.” Wicker says it is hard to know when Nixon’s “popping off” about this or that supposed enemy was ever acted upon and when his instructions to “get” a particular person were ignored. Crowley says: “I think all presidents say things in the heat of disappointment, frustration, anger, even fatigue, that they never intend to have acted upon. And Nixon’s rantings have become a lightning rod for criticism because we can hear his but we can’t hear those of other presidents.”
Brookings Institution Burglary Halted - Ehrlichman explains why Nixon’s 1972 order to burglarize the Brookings Institution (see June 30-July 1, 1971) was never carried out: “because I shot it down.… I tracked down who had followed up—who was proposing to do this thing and I told ‘em to stop. It sounded ridiculous to me. So that was the end of it.”
Comparison of Ellsberg and Hiss - Ehrlichman says that, listening to the tapes, it seems as if Nixon was comparing Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the notorious “Pentagon Papers” (see June 13, 1971), to his “Communist” nemesis of the 1950s, Alger Hiss. Hiss, prosecuted by Nixon for allegedly selling US intelligence to the Soviet Union, helped Nixon vault to national prominence. Ehrlichman now says Nixon seemed to hope that Ellsberg could provide him with another, similar boost to his political stature before the 1972 presidential elections. In general, Ehrlichman says, Nixon was “very sensitive” to press leaks, especially those that he considered a threat to national security, and “his reaction in some cases was pretty extreme.”
Mentions of Jews - Ehrlichman goes on to address Nixon’s well-documented diatribes against Jews (see September 1971), and says that such outbursts were not confined to Jews: another day “it was major Italian donors to the Democrats, and [the next] it would be black contributors.… He broke it down along ethnic lines. He broke it down along socioeconomic lines. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the fact that he was talking about Jewish people in this particular segment.” Wicker says the tapes largely confirm the public impression of Nixon as a “dark… evil man” because of his blatant orders of criminal behavior and his rampant ethnic slurs. [PBS, 1/2/1997]
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, visits the National Archives to conduct a document review as Clinton’s representative to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. A junior staffer would usually perform such a document search, but the papers are so highly classified that Berger has to go himself. Berger is already worried that the archives may contain documents that can be used against him and the Clinton administration to attack it as having left the US vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Although he should use a secure reading room, where he would be monitored by a guard or camera, to review the documents, he is allowed to do so in the office of a senior archivist. He also keeps his cell phone, in breach of the rules. One of the boxes of documents he reviews contains files for former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Berger will later steal copies of one such document (see July 18, 2003). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 1-5]
Vice President Dick Cheney unilaterally exempts his office from Executive Order 12958, which established government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. [White House, 4/17/1995; Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007] It was amended by President Bush’s Executive Order 13292 (see March 25, 2003) to require that all agencies or “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information” regularly report on their activities to the Information Security Oversight Office. [White House, 3/25/2003]
Vice President Not Part of Executive Branch, Cheney Argues - Cheney’s argument is that the vice president’s office is not part of the executive branch, and therefore has no legal obligation to report on its classification decisions as mandated by the order. Cheney justifies his position by noting that the vice president has a role in both the executive and legislative branches—the vice president is also president of the Senate—and the vice president’s office is not an agency. In May 2006, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride will say, “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (McBride does not say who reviewed the claim.)
Criticism - Others, such as government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, disagree. “It undermines oversight of the classification system and reveals a disdain for presidential authority,” he says. “It’s part of a larger picture of disrespect that this vice president has shown for the norms of oversight and accountability.” Around 80 agencies and entities must report annually to the National Archives; besides the Office of the Vice President, only the president’s Homeland Security Council and the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board have as yet failed to report on their activities. Aftergood will say: “Somebody made a decision that they don’t want to do what they used to do.… They have to explain why they stopped doing it, and they haven’t done that.” [ABC News, 6/21/2007] Law professor Garrett Epps observes: “The vice president is saying he doesn’t have to follow the orders of the president. That’s a very interesting proposition.” And Judicial Watch’s Paul Orfanedes says Cheney’s claim “seems most disingenuous.” [Cox News Service, 6/21/2007]
Retaliation For Attempt To Force Compliance - The National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will attempt in 2004 to conduct an inspection of Cheney’s offices pursuant to the executive order; Cheney’s staff will block the inspection, the first time since the ISOO’s inception in 1978 that one of its inspections has been thwarted. The National Archives will protest Cheney’s decision (see June 8, 2006 and January 9, 2007); Cheney will respond by attempting to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ; ABC News, 6/21/2007] In June 2007, President Bush will announce that he never intended for either his or Cheney’s office to have to comply with the directive. [USA Today, 6/24/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Issue Nothing More Than 'Kerfuffle' - In December 2007, Cheney will call the entire issue a “kerfuffle… is he or isn’t he; is he part of the executive branch, part of the legislative branch? And the answer really is, you’ve got a foot in both camps. I obviously work for the president. That’s why I’m sitting here in the West Wing of the White House. But I also have a role to play in the Congress as the president of the Senate. I actually get paid—that’s where my paycheck comes from, is the Senate. So I try to keep lines open to both sides of the Congress, both the House and the Senate.” [White House, 12/6/2007] However, Cheney sometimes asserts executive privilege, a function of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007 and June 29, 2007).
Entity Tags: Information Security Oversight Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Archives and Records Administration, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Lea Anne McBride, George W. Bush, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Issuetsdeah, Garrett Epps, Steven Aftergood, Office of the Vice President, Paul Orfanedes
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at firstname.lastname@example.org, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” [Mother Jones, 3/30/2007; Los Angeles Times, 4/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Jack Abramoff, White House Office of Political Affairs, Bush administration (43), Henry A. Waxman, Steven Hensen, Susan Ralston, Daniel Schulman, Karl C. Rove, Kevin Ring, Steven Aftergood, Republican National Committee, National Archives and Records Administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush signs an amendment to Executive Order 12958, giving government agencies broad new powers to reclassify documents already released to the public and having them removed from the public stacks of the National Archives. Archivist Allen Weinstein later estimates that some 25,000 documents and records will be removed from public access due to Bush’s decision. The reclassification program will eventually be shut down. Weinstein will later observe: “More than one of three documents removed from the open shelves and barred to researchers should not have been tampered with. That practice, which undermined the National Archives’ basic mission to preserve the authenticity of files under our stewardship must never be repeated.” The order also makes it much easier to initially classify a document or a record, resulting in over 15 million newly classified documents by the end of 2004. [Savage, 2007, pp. 162-163] A second, separate amendment to the order gives Vice President Cheney the power to unilaterally classify and declassify information (see March 25, 2003).
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, takes notes he has made on classified documents at the National Archives out of the archives. As the papers on which the notes are based are classified, the notes are also classified, even though they are about documents Berger saw during his time as national security adviser. Berger is at the archives to prepare for an interview with the 9/11 Commission, but he had previously visited them to prepare for discussions with the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see May 30, 2002). As the proper security procedures are not followed, Berger is able to create a distraction and remove the top fifteen pages of the notes, leaving only two pages. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 6-7] Berger will later steal copies of a classified document from the archives (see September 2, 2003).
The National Archives building. [Source: Dan Smith]Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, steals a document he believes could be used against him and the Clinton administration from the National Archives. Berger is at the archives to prepare for an interview with the 9/11 Commission, but had previously visited them to prepare for discussions with the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see May 30, 2002) and had improperly removed classified notes he had made on the documents (see July 18, 2003). The document he takes is an after-action report drafted by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke following a period around the millennium when the administration thought al-Qaeda might attack US interests. The report included 29 recommendations for government counterterrrorism programs, several of which were not implemented before Clinton left office. Although Berger thinks the Clinton administration took counterterrorism very seriously, he believes the document could be used against him. One of the workers at the archives sees Berger behaving suspiciously with the documents in a corridor, and alerts a superior. However, the documents are not cataloged, and the archives do not know what documents, if any, have been taken. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 7-8] Berger will be caught taking a document the next time he comes to the archives (see October 2, 2003).
Members of staff at the National Archives find that Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, has stolen copies of an after-action report drafted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke from the archives. Their suspicions were aroused on a previous visit by Berger (see September 2, 2003), but before his fourth visit to view 9/11-related documents at the archives, they surreptitiously number the papers he is to be given in pencil, and he initially takes another two copies of the report, which he thinks could be damaging to him. Berger makes frequent trips to the toilet to conceal the stolen papers. During one of the trips, the archives’ staff examines the pile of documents and realizes what he has stolen. They print another copy of the stolen report and hand it to him, saying they think they forgot to give it to him in the first place. He says he needs time alone to make a private call—although a staff member monitors the phones and finds that no call is made from the office phone—and then makes another suspicious trip to the toilet to hide the document. Berger then goes outside the archives for a walk and, worried about taking the stolen papers and notes about other documents he should not have removed back inside the building, he hides them under a trailer on a nearby construction site. He returns to the construction site later that night to retrieve what he has hidden, then destroys three copies of the stolen memo, leaving himself with two copies and his own notes. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 250-252] The archives will confront Berger about the missing documents two days later (see October 4, 2003).
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, is phoned by a staffer from the National Archives, from which he has stolen copies of a document (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). The staffer says that three of the documents Berger reviewed are missing and, after Berger pretends to be indignant, threatens to call the National Security Council. Berger, who has stolen five copies of the document and destroyed three, then goes to his office to look for the remains of the destroyed copies, but cannot find them. He calls the archives and says that he has found two copies of the memo, trying to pass off his taking them as an innocent mistake. However, the archives then calls the National Security Council and the Justice Department, which launches an investigation into the theft. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 252-253]
J. William Leonard, the head of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, asking for reports on classification activity by Cheney’s office. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] The request was prompted by a May 28, 2006 letter from Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists that states in part, “I believe that the Office of the Vice President is willfully violating a provision of [Executive Order 12958, as amended by President Bush (see 2003)] and of the implementing ISOO directive. Specifically, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to comply with the ISOO requirement to ‘report annually to the Director of ISOO statistics related to its security classification program.‘… As you know, the President’s executive order states that this and other ISOO Directive requirements are ‘binding’ upon any ‘entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.‘… Yet despite this requirement, the OVP has failed to report on its classification and declassification activity for three years in a row. Moreover, this appears to be a deliberate act on the part of the OVP, not simply a negligent one.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 ] Since 2003, Cheney and his staffers have argued that the Vice President’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by the mandate of the executive orders: Cheney’s officials have also stated they do not believe the OVP is included in the definition of “agency” as set forth in the executive order, and therefore does not consider itself an “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] Aftergood wrote in his letter, “Nothing in the executive order excuses the OVP from reporting on classification activity in the performance of its executive duties merely because it also has separate legislative functions. It is hard to see how such an argument could be proposed by a reasonable person in good faith. Since the OVP has publicly staked out a position that openly defies the plain language of the executive order, I believe ISOO now has a responsibility to clarify the matter.… [B]y casting its non-compliance as a matter of principle, the OVP has mounted a challenge to the integrity of classification oversight and to the authority of the executive order. In my opinion, it is a challenge that should not go unanswered.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 ] In his letter to Addington, Leonard notes that until 2002, Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the Vice President’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Addington to ensure that Cheney’s office begins complying with the law. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] Leonard’s letter is ignored. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes a second letter to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, after Addington ignored Leonard’s first letter (see June 8, 2006). The issue is Cheney’s continued refusal to follow Executive Orders 12958 and 13292 (see March 25, 2003) that require his office to report periodically to the ISOO on what it is classifying and how it is protecting that information. Cheney’s argument is that the Vice President’s office is not part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by those orders. Leonard writes that, in the light of Cheney’s continued refusal to comply with the law and of Addington’s failure to respond to the first letter, he believes the issue should be referred to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see January 9, 2007). [J. William Leonard, 8/23/2006 ] Addington will refuse to respond to this letter as well. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting an opinion on Vice President Dick Cheney’s decision to exempt his office from the mandate of Executive Order 12958. The order requires that everyone in the executive branch take steps to protect and secure classified information regarding national security, and report periodically to the ISOO (see 2003). Cheney’s position is that the vice president’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch. Leonard notes that until 2002 Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the vice president’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Gonzales to determine that Cheney’s office does indeed fall under the mandate of the executive order. [J.William Leonard, 1/9/2007 ] Gonzales will ignore the letter; Cheney’s office will attempt to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
J. William Leonard, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives, testifies before the House Oversight Committee that David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, attempted to eliminate ISOO in retaliation for its request that Cheney’s office report its classification activities (see 2003 and January 9, 2007). Since 2003, Cheney’s office has said that it is not required to follow a brace of executive orders mandating annual disclosure of information about its classification activities to the ISOO. According to Leonard, Addington tried to have the executive orders rewritten to abolish the ISOO and to exempt the Office of the Vice President (OVP) from oversight. Leonard says that those proposed changes were rejected. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ; New York Times, 6/22/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
John Kerry. [Source: Peace Corps]Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, challenging Cheney and Addington’s claim that the Vice Presidency is not part of the executive branch (see 2003). Kerry tells reporters, “It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government. This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history, and undermines the integrity of executive power and the Executive Order as an institution.” In the letter, Kerry writes of his concern: “[Cheney] self-designated his position as part of neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch, and is therefore not accountable to the laws that govern either branch.… This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history and does not keep good faith with the hierarchy of government. While I appreciate that the Vice President has authority as President of the Senate, this does not exclude him from the executive and its oversight. Claiming to be party to neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch only serves to evade a standing executive order and bring secrecy to the Office of the Vice President.… The Vice President has routinely operated as a member of the executive branch and all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with that position. To propose that all this time the Vice President did not believe he was functioning as a member of the executive branch is disingenuous.” Kerry demands the reasoning behind Cheney and Addington’s assertions, and, in light of Cheney’s refusal to comply with reporting requirements of the National Archives as to how it treats classified documents, demands “to know what steps the Office is taking to protect classified information. This is our nation’s most sensitive information and it is critical that it is kept protected which is why the Archives does this oversight.” [John Kerry, 6/25/2007]
J. William Leonard, resigning his post as the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives after 34 years of government service, says his battles with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) are a contributing factor in his decision to resign. Leonard’s office challenged Dick Cheney’s attempt to declare his office exempt from federal rules governing classified information, and in return Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, attempted to have ISOO abolished (see 2003 and May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). Leonard is described by Archivist Allen Weinstein as “the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government.” Leonard says that he was “disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that.” Leonard says he was frustrated when President Bush announced that he never intended for Cheney’s office to have to comply with classification reporting rules: “I’ve had 34 years of frustration. That’s life in the big city. I also accept that I’m not always right…. But this was a big thing as far as I was concerned.”
Possible Connection to Plame Affair - Leonard refuses to say whether he believes the timing of Cheney’s decision—the fall of 2003, the same time as the media began paying attention to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson—is significant, but “some of the things based on what I’ve read [have] given me cause for concern.” Leonard says that some of the exhibits in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby were annotated “handle as SCI,” or “sensitive compartmentalized information,” including an unclassified transcript of a conversation between Cheney and his staff members about concocting a plan to respond to the media over the allegations of Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
National Security vs. National Security - Leonard believes that the government needs to “introduce a new balancing test” for deciding whether to classify information. “In the past, we’ve looked at it as, ‘we have to balance national security against the public’s right to know or whatever.’ My balancing test would be national security versus national security: yes, disclosing information may cause damage, but you know what, withholding that information may even cause greater damage…. And I don’t think we sufficiently take[…] that into greater account. The global struggle that we’re engaged in today is more than anything else an ideological struggle. And in my mind… that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s population. And yet, we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we’re often times find ourselves in a position where we’re ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can’t talk about that.” [Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration, Allen Weinstein, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]
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