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4/14/2004

9-11: Denying the Commission Access to Clinton's Presidential Papers

The administration's strategy for evading accountability for 9-11 has been to blame Clinton. It has worked to prevent the Commission from fully understanding the Clinton administration's anti-terrorism policies.

Most people have heard by now the Bush administration's deplorable attempt to deny the 9-11 commission access to former President Clinton's presidential papers on terrorism. Throughout the month of March, while the administration was throwing spokespeople at every talk show, uniformly blaming Clinton for 9-11, they were stealthily hiding Clinton's actual, documentary record from the 9-11 commission.

Apparently Clinton authorized the release of some 11,000 pages, and the White House blocked the release of over three quarters of them, an attempt at stonewalling only discovered when one of Clinton's attorneys, Bruce Lindsey, publicly protested. The White House said the Clinton documents were withheld because they were "duplicative or unrelated," "highly sensitive" and "the information in them could be relayed to the commission in other ways." [NYT 4/2/04] The Commission objected, and the administration caved (or flip flopped), agreeing to give the commission access to the records. The Commission determined that 69 documents should have been released, but weren't. The administration still refuses to release 57 of them.

Of course, the White House's stonewalling is entirely within character. In November 2001, Bush issued an executive order eviscerating the Presidential Records Act, overruling by executive fiat a valid Federal Law.

John Dean has a good section on this Executive Order in his new book, Worse than Watergate:

When Bush entered office, it was time to release the 68,000 Reagan pages. But Bush's White House lawyers asked for an extension so they could review the "many constitutional and legal questions" relating to these documents. Then they asked for another, and then another. (One can only presume Bush's wariness may have something to do with what those papers say about his father or members of his administration.) Finally, they released most of those pages but refused to release the rest. Bush then issued an executive order on November 1, 2001, virtually gutting the 1978 Presidential Records Act. Bush's in-your-face Executive Order No. 13223 created an entirely new set of procedures for handling presidential papers and imposed new access standards never fathomed by Congress for obtaining the information about former presidents. In essence, Bush was repealing an act of Congress and imposing new law by executive fiat. [90]
The Executive Order gave both former and current Presidents veto power over the release of documents for pretextual reasons. It lets "representatives" of former presidents veto the release of papers. It requires researchers to provide "justification" for seeking Presidential documents. It authorizes Vice Presidents to claim executive privilege, an unprecedented power.

Presidential historians Robert Dallek, Joan Hoff and others, none of them partisans, attacked the executive order as being evidence of a "secrecy fetish," of being motivated by a desire to protect his father, his friends, and himself from the judgment of history.

 

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