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Partial Release of Presidential Records Insufficient; Lawsuit Not Affected

Dec. 20, 2001

Partial Release of Presidential Records Insufficient; Lawsuit Not Affected

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Today?s belated announcement that the Reagan Presidential Library will release 8,000 pages of presidential records is a step in the right direction, but thousands of pages are still being withheld pending an improper review under an unlawful executive order, Public Citizen said today.

The records are among 68,000 pages of materials that were supposed to be released in January under the Presidential Records Act. The release was delayed by the White House for several months while it prepared the new executive order that purports to give former presidents and vice presidents veto power over the release of their papers. Public Citizen and a coalition of individuals and groups representing historians and journalists filed a lawsuit in late November to force the release of the 68,000 pages and to strike down the executive order.

“It?s clear that the pressure from the lawsuit, together with criticism from members of Congress, scholars and journalists, has spurred the White House to try to release documents before the government has to respond to the suit,” said Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney Scott Nelson, who filed the suit.

In announcing the release of the materials, the National Archives and Records Administration stated that neither the former president nor President Bush had exercised the veto power given them by the executive order. “It looks as if they?re nervous about whether the executive order will hold up in court and are trying to avoid the issue by not claiming executive privilege,” Nelson said.

About 60,000 pages of Reagan documents are still undergoing review under the executive order. In addition, vice presidential records of former President George Bush, which are held at the Bush Presidential Library, are also being withheld from the public pending review under the executive order.

“The legality of the executive order is still very much a live issue, and one we will continue to press regardless of the release of particular documents,” Nelson said. “We?re happy that keeping up the pressure has sprung these documents, and we expect that others will follow between now and late January, when the Justice Department has to respond to the lawsuit. But we shouldn?t have had to wait this long for these documents, and we shouldn?t have to wait to get the rest of them, either.”