Whose Records are They?

Today’s Washington Post published a letter to the editor written by our own Angela Canterbury, advocacy director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, in response to an editorial about the battle for the Clinton White House records: 

The Feb. 8 editorial "Clinton Records Watch" pointed out that there is a process to follow regarding the release of presidential records. However, one cannot ignore the fact that the process has been altered to give former presidents, former vice presidents and their representatives veto power over the release of records.

In 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, an expansive order that eviscerated the post-Watergate Presidential Records Act, which made presidential records the property of the government, and then the public.

Legislation to repeal the order passed the House by a veto-proof margin but is stuck in the Senate. First Sen. Jim Bunning held and then released the bill, the Presidential Records Act Amendments (H.R. 1255/S. 886), and now Sen. Jeff Sessions is blocking it. A single senator should not be allowed to stand between the public and its right to know.

Moreover, all of the senators running for president should demonstrate their interest in transparency by co-sponsoring this bill. So far, Sen. Barack Obama is the only one who has done so. Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton should join him and help to pass the bill to show the American public that they truly believe presidential records belong to the people — not the president.