Our Right to Know? Over Whose Dead Body?

Bush recently told Israeli reporters: “I’ll be dead before the true history of the Bush administration is written.” 

Over his dead body?  Perhaps he meant that his "good works" would be told later, but as long as we let him keep his iron grip on presidential records, it could be several generations of Bushes before we know much of anything.

In 2001, Bush signed Executive Order 13233 to allow current and previous presidents to withhold documents and records without explanation INDEFINITELY.  What’s more, the order extends the presidents’ authority to control the records under to presidential family members, and vice presidents.

This unprecedented expansion of executive power flouts FOIA, precedent, and the principles of the Constitution.  The order, drafted by former Attorney General and close Bush friend Alberto Gonzales, eviscerates the post-Watergate Presidential Records Act, which made presidential records the property of the government, and then the public.  Our right to know should not be subject to the whims of the executive.

Legislation to repeal the order passed the House, but has been repeatedly blocked in the Senate.  First Senator Bunning was named as the holder. After feeling some pressure, Sen. Bunning removed his hold, and then friends of ours in the Senate attempted again to bring the bill up for a vote just before the holiday break.  It didn’t happen because, we are told, there is another objection from another unknown senator – no doubt carrying more water for the President. 

Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the nation is consumed by one of the more thrilling primary elections in memory.  But where do the presidential candidates stand on the Presidential Records Act and presidential secrecy?  Senator Clinton recently was accused, perhaps unfairly, of preventing public access to Clinton Administration records.  Still, Senator Clinton is conspicuously not a cosponsor of the bill that would revoke the Bush Executive Order, the Presidential Records Act Amendments.

Why not? 

It’s been nearly two months since Philipe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton’s Senate office, told the Tribune that "Senator Clinton believes that President Bush’s 2001 Executive Order was wholly unnecessary and is inconsistent with the spirit of the Presidential Records Act, and therefore supports legislative efforts to reverse that order."

We’re still waiting for Clinton, and most of the other presidential candidates, to demonstrate that they believe the records belong to the people, not the President.  So far, only Senator Obama has put his name on the bill.

So while the world is enthralled with the presidential horse race, presidential records are hidden away and transparency transgressed again and again.  We can’t forget that much of our government remains in the hands of a few, until we take it back – again and again.