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National Archives Still Withholding Nearly 60,000 Pages of Reagan Presidential Records Despite Bush Authorization for Their Release

March 11, 2002

National Archives Still Withholding Nearly 60,000 Pages of Reagan Presidential Records Despite Bush Authorization for Their Release

Public Citizen Asks Archives to Release Documents

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Archives continues to withhold approximately 60,000 pages of former President Ronald Reagan’s records even though President Bush has now authorized them to be released.

In a letter sent today to the Archives, Public Citizen called on the agency to release the records as required by the Presidential Records Act. By law, the records should have been released in January 2001 but have been withheld because of an executive order signed by President Bush on Nov. 1, 2001. Public Citizen and a coalition of historians and journalists have sued in federal court to overturn the executive order.

Originally, the Archives withheld about 68,000 pages of Reagan documents based on the executive order. In early January of this year, it released about 8,000 pages after receiving White House approval.

On Feb. 8, 2002, the government moved to dismiss Public Citizen’s lawsuit. Among other arguments, the government claimed that the lawsuit was moot because the White House had issued a letter earlier that day authorizing the Archives to release 59,000 of the remaining 60,000 unreleased pages. The government argued that because these documents were “now-publicly-available,” the court could no longer order their release.

In fact, however, the 59,000 pages were not publicly available when the government filed its motion, and are not publicly available today. Although the White House told the Archives that Bush had no objection to releasing 59,000 pages, the White House didn’t identify which records those were. The Archives has not announced any plans to release the documents, and has stated in response to inquiries by historians that it will continue to withhold them until the White House completes its review of all the remaining documents, which has not yet occurred.

Public Citizen informed the Justice Department on Friday that the statement made in its earlier court filing – that the documents were public – was erroneous. In a court filing later that day, the government acknowledged the error, which it said was “inadvertent.”

“I assume that the factual misstatements in the government’s motion were inadvertent and not intended to mislead the court,” wrote Scott Nelson, attorney for Public Citizen, in today’s letter to the Archives. “The fact remains, however, that the court was advised that these records are publicly available, yet they are not.”

Friday’s court filing by the government also included another letter from the White House Counsel, dated the previous day, informing the Archives that the White House had authorized the release of all but 150 pages of the Reagan records. The letter asked the Archives to make the rest of the pages public as soon as possible. Despite the White House’s urging, the Archives still has not announced any plans to open either the records authorized for release on Feb. 8 or the additional records okayed for release last Thursday.

In today’s letter, Public Citizen called on the Archives to follow through on what the government told the court last month and release all of the approximately 60,000 pages now cleared by the White House. Because neither the White House nor former President Reagan’s representatives object to their release, there is no lawful basis for withholding them even under the terms of the challenged executive order.

“Until President Bush authorized the Archives to open the documents, the Archives at least had the bad excuse that the executive order barred their release,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “But now that the White House has approved release of the documents and the government has told the court they are publicly available, there is no conceivable reason why they should not be opened to the public. It’s time to stop playing games and release the documents.”

For a copy of Public Citizen’s letter to the Archives, click here.