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Profile: Richard Thornburgh

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Richard Thornburgh was a participant or observer in the following events:

The National Program Office (NPO), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, establishes a secret line of presidential succession for certain “narrowly defined” emergency situations. According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the president of the United States be killed or incapacitated, he is to be replaced by the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then each cabinet member from the Secretary of State down. The alternative succession plan developed by the NPO, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or “PS cubed,” would suspend these traditional rules and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government. A source with knowledge of the plan says it would “suspend that natural succession and these individuals would have the right to appoint, virtually appoint, a new government.” The program, according to author James Mann, calls for “setting aside the legal rules of presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new ‘president’ and his staff.” The idea is to “concentrate on speed, to preserve ‘continuity of government,’ and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.” The alternative succession plan allows the presidency, the vice presidency, and each cabinet position to be filled by individuals from both inside and outside the active government. In 1991, CNN will list the names of several people that may assume power should the plan be put into action, including Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Schlesinger, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and Tip O’Neill. Some participants say the alternative succession plan is absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the federal government, but others argue the secrecy of the program undermines its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” says a constitutional scholar from Duke University, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Edwin Meese, James R. Schlesinger, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Helms, National Program Office, Richard Thornburgh, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Elliot Richardson, an attorney acting for the software company Inslaw, writes to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh about the dispute with the Justice Department over the department’s alleged misappropriation of enhanced PROMIS software. Richardson complains about a review of the case by the Public Integrity Section (PIS), an oversight component at the department, which came down against Inslaw’s claims (see February 29, 1988). He says that there is a conflict of interest because the department is defending itself against a civil action by Inslaw while at the same time investigating itself over the allegations that form the basis of the action. If the internal investigation found wrongdoing by the department, this would destroy the department’s case in court. His view is that the department has given priority to defending itself against the civil action, not the criminal investigation of its own wrongdoing. Richardson adds that no one from the PIS has contacted him, Inslaw counsel Charles Work, some of the witnesses in the case, or Inslaw’s owners. Despite this, the owners provided the PIS with the names of 30 people who had information relevant to the investigation in December 1988. Therefore, Richardson concludes that the only solution is for the department to appoint an independent counsel. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Elliot Richardson, Inslaw, Inc., Public Integrity Section, Richard Thornburgh

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

A US District Court rules that Attorney General Richard Thornburgh does not have to appoint a special prosecutor in the Inslaw affair. Inslaw’s attorney Elliot Richardson had filed the case because of a dispute with the Justice Department over allegations that the department had stolen a version of the PROMIS database and search application from the company. However, the court rules against Inslaw, stating that a prosecutor’s decision not to investigate—“no matter how indefensible”—cannot be corrected by any court. [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Inslaw, Inc., Elliot Richardson, Richard Thornburgh

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh gives a speech to the conservative Federalist Society. Thornburgh complains that the veto power as mandated by the Constitution is no longer enough for a president to be effective in challenging Congress and defending executive branch authority. Lawmakers are adding new restrictions on presidential power into bills that have nothing to do with such issues, making it virtually impossible for the president to defend his prerogatives. “Today’s legislative process has rendered the presidential veto a less effective check on Congressional encroachments than was envisioned two centuries ago,” Thornburgh says. “It is often very difficult for the president to veto legislation that contains sometimes blatantly unconstitutional provisions. For example, Congress has become fond of inserting substantive provisions in appropriations bills. This is what they call making the provision veto-proof.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 234-235]

Entity Tags: Federalist Society, Richard Thornburgh

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law holds a hearing about the failure of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to provide full access to all documents and records about the Inslaw case. At the hearing, Inslaw owner William Hamilton and its attorney Elliot Richardson air their complaints about an alleged criminal conspiracy in the Justice Department’s handling of a contract with Inslaw and its alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. Steven Ross, the general counsel to the clerk of the US House of Representatives, refutes the Justice Department’s rationale for withholding documents related to possible wrongdoing by its officials involved with the Inslaw contract. In addition, Government Accountability Office representatives describe deficiencies in the Justice Department’s Information Resources Management Office and its administration of data processing contracts.
Bason's Allegations - Judge George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who had found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the department (see September 28, 1987), testifies that he believes his failure to be reappointed as bankruptcy judge was the result of improper influence on the court selection process by the department because of his findings. Bason cites information provided to him by a reporter (see May 1988) and negative statements about him by departmental employees (see June 19, 1987 and June 1987 or Shortly After). After investigating these allegations, the committee will find: “The committee could not substantiate Judge Bason’s allegations. If the Department of Justice had influence over the process, it was subtle, to say the least.” Bason will point out that Norma Johnson, the judge who chaired the meeting at which he was not reappointed (see December 15, 1987), had previously worked with departmental official Stuart Schiffer, who was involved in the Inslaw case. However, the committee will comment that it has “no information that Judge Johnson talked to Mr. Schiffer about Inslaw, Judge Bason, or the bankruptcy judge selection process.”
Thornburgh's Reaction - Following this hearing, Thornburgh agrees to cooperate with the subcommittee, but then fails to provide it with several documents it wants. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Steven Ross, William Hamilton, Richard Thornburgh, Government Accountability Office, Elliot Richardson, George Bason, House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Anti-abortion protesters gather on a street corner in Wichita.Anti-abortion protesters gather on a street corner in Wichita. [Source: Patriotic Thunder (.org)]Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), under the new leadership of the Reverend Keith Tucci, conducts a seven-week occupation of three women’s clinics in Wichita, Kansas. Some 2,700 activists and protesters are arrested during the course of events. [Associated Press, 7/5/1993; Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39] The occupation is part of what the organization calls the “Summer of Mercy,” which involves a series of clinic blockades, occupations, and harassment of abortion providers, clinic staff, and patients. The event lasts six weeks, and culminates in a rally that fills Wichita’s Cessna Stadium and features conservative Christian activist Dr. James Dobson. One of the clinics targeted is operated by Dr. George Tiller; Tiller will be shot by an anti-abortion activist in 1993 (see August 19, 1993) and murdered by another in 2009 (see May 31, 2009). [Associated Press, 7/5/1993] Some of the Operation Rescue members arrested face charges for attacking police officers trying to keep order at the clinics. Tucci and two other anti-abortion organization leaders, the Reverends Pat Mahoney and Joe Slovenec, are jailed until they agree to comply with Judge Patrick Kelly’s order not to blockade the clinics. Two other Operation Rescue leaders, Randall Terry and Michael McMonagle, are ordered along with Tucci, Mahoney, and Slovenec to leave Wichita; when they refuse to comply with Kelly’s initial order to stop the blockades after agreeing to it, Kelly observes, “You are learning for the first time, I think, that you can’t trust a damned thing they say.” Mahoney retorts, “Hell will freeze over before I surrender my constitutional rights.” He, Tucci, and Slovenec promise to return to Wichita despite the court orders and again protest at the clinics. [Associated Press, 8/31/1991; Associated Press, 7/5/1993] The Bush administration attempts to derail Kelly’s curbing of the anti-abortion activities; the Justice Department files a “friend of the court” brief challenging Kelly’s jurisdiction in the case. “The position we have taken before the Supreme Court of the United States is that the courts do not have jurisdiction, that it is a matter properly handled in state and local courts,” says Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. [Newport News Daily Press, 8/9/1991]

Entity Tags: Richard Thornburgh, US Department of Justice, Patrick Kelly, Operation Rescue, Michael McMonagle, Bush administration (41), George Tiller, James Dobson, Joe Slovenec, Keith Tucci, Pat Mahoney, Randall Terry

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Attorney General Richard Thornburgh informs the House Judiciary Committee that he will not attend a committee hearing the next day, despite previously saying he would. The hearing is to discuss the committee’s access to departmental documents and the Inslaw affair, in which the department had allegedly stolen an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. According to a report by the committee, Thornburgh refuses to appear because a “press release announcing the hearing had been unduly aggressive and contentious and not in keeping with the tenor of an oversight hearing.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Richard Thornburgh

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

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