In an obvious effort to protect President Barack Obama, a group of congressional Democrats has introduced legislation to create an official process that will allow the commander-in-chief to keep presidential records secret after he leaves office.
Ironically, Obama revoked a similar George W. Bush order in one of his first official acts as president. In 2001 Bush penned an executive order severely limiting public access to his presidential records. Shortly after swearing in, Obama killed it as part of his much-ballyhooed commitment to government transparency. At the time, the new president claimed that he was giving the American people greater access to “historic documents.”
It was the right move. The Bush Administration did indeed demonstrate a disappointing penchant for secrecy and Judicial Watch was a frontrunner in the effort to make records public. Examples include: The Dick Cheney Energy Task Force records that JW pursued before the United States Supreme Court; Attorney General John Ashcroft’s order advising government agencies to withhold all discretionary disclosures; invoking executive privilege to block the House Government Reform Committee’s probe of the Campaign Financing Task Force.
If the Democrats’ proposed measure (Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2011) becomes law, former presidents will be allowed to assert a new “constitutionally based privilege” against disclosing records of their liking. Here is how it would work; the Archivist of the United States would be required to notify the former president, as well as the incumbent, of intentions to make records public. Anything that either the former or current president claims should be kept private won’t be released.
The veteran Brooklyn congressman (Edolphus Towns) who recently introduced the law in the U.S. House has yet to explain why it’s necessary. What’s certain is that Obama has failed miserably to keep his promise of running the most transparent administration in history. For examples read highlights from Judicial Watch’s testimony before Congress earlier this year. JW was invited to testify in separate House and Senate hearings during “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative by the news media, nonprofits and other organizations to promote government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
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