Hiding Past and Present Presidencies

| November 26, 2002 Issue

N ot since Richard Nixon was in office has there been such an effort to keep the work of a president hidden, says John Dean in Find Law's Commentary. On Nov. 1, Bush signed Executive Order 13233, indefinitely blocking the release of presidential records to the public.

Under the 1978 Presidential Records Act, most of a former president's records are made public after 12 years by the Archivist of the United States. The exceptions, Dean says, are for papers that still must be withheld for national security reasons. Bush claims Executive Order 13233 does not contradict the Records Act, relying on a clause that states it does not "confirm, limit, or expand constitutionally-based privileges which may be available to an incumbent or former president."

While Bush justifies his actions with the Sept. 11 attacks, Dean says the real reason for Bush's secrecy may be because Ronald Reagan's presidential records could contain negative information about his father and current Bush administration workers. Bush has stalled the release of the information since it passed the 12-year deadline in January 2001. Additionally, Bush has had his records as the governor of Texas shipped to his father's presidential library, where they inaccessible. The order, Dean says, suggests not only that Bush "does not want Americans to know what he is doing, but he also does not want to worry that historians and others will someday find out."
--Kate Garsombke
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