What Others Are Saying

December 17, 2007

One of the first things President Bush did after taking office in 2001 was ask Alberto R. Gonzales, then his White House counsel, to draft an executive order that would gut the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The law, which was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, requires that unclassified papers of a president or vice president be routinely released 12 years after the president's term ends.

There has been speculation that the president was interested in shielding from public view papers from the Reagan administration that might prove embarrassing to the president's father, who was vice president to Ronald Reagan, or to give his father the ability to shelve records from his own presidency, which should have become public in 2004.

Whatever the motivation, Mr. Gonzales drafted a doozy of an executive order, and President Bush signed it Nov. 1, 2001, at a time when the nation was still in shock from 9/11 and the inclination to challenge the president's prerogatives was scant.

In hindsight, it becomes more apparent that Executive Order 13233 was simply part and parcel of the administration's penchant for secrecy and for exerting a claim of executive privilege at every turn.

As the Bush-Cheney administration enters its final year, it is past time for Congress to act on an amended Presidential Records Act that will make it clear that Congress had no intention of giving a past president, the sitting president or an heir the ability to withhold White House documents from the public.

The Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 has passed the House by a veto-proof margin. It is stalled in the Senate by a hold placed on it by one senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

Thirty-one open-government groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, have signed a letter calling specifically for those senators, Republican and Democratic, who are seeking the presidency to become co-sponsors of the bill, to lead the effort to break the hold on the legislation and to pass it by a veto-proof margin.

- Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator

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