Policy and News Updates for June 26, 2007


Policy Updates

In This Issue:

 

I. Vice President attempts to avoid accountability
II. Where did all the emails go?
III. Pushing the Presidential Records Act


I. Vice President attempts to avoid accountability
Focus has again turned to Vice President Dick Cheney for his penchant for secrecy. Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee published a set of documents that revealed that the Vice President has exempted his office from the Executive Order (E.O. 12958) that directs the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to oversee a system for protecting classified information. Since 2003, Cheney’s office has not filed reports on its possession of classified data and has refused a mandatory inspection.

The Vice President has claimed that he does not have to comply with the executive order because his office is not "an entity within the executive branch." According to Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, "That’s quite opposite the argument Cheney made in 2001, when he said that a congressional probe into the workings of his energy task force ‘would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.’" The Los Angeles Times reported that the White House has also claimed that the Executive Order does not apply to the president’s office.

After pressure from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), the office within NARA charged with overseeing compliance with classification safeguards, Cheney proposed that "the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office." [See page 1, par. 4 of the letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President]

According to a letter Chairman Waxman sent to White House Counsel Fred Fielding today, former and current employees of the White House Security Office, another office that is charged with overseeing classification procedures, have also reported that they have been blocked from conducting inspections in the West Wing of the White House.

The Justice Department has said they are reviewing the matter. However, as reported by Secrecy News, "in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Justice Department revealed that no documents whatsoever had been generated by the purported review." For more background on this issue, see the June 26th edition of Secrecy News.

II. Where did all the emails go?
After investigating the use of Republican National Committee (RNC) email accounts by White House officials, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee released a new report showing the use of unofficial email addresses for official communications was far more extensive than first reported.

The RNC reported to the Committee that 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts. Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials.

The Committee plans to continue its investigation by examining the records of federal agencies to try to find some of the White House emails destroyed by the RNC; investigating whether former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials, as suggested in testimony by former White House assistant Susan Ralston; and possibly issuing compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign, which has refused to provide the Committee with basic information.

III. Pushing the Presidential Records Act
On June 13, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the "Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007" (H.R. 1255) and a companion bill (S. 886). These bills guarantee the timely release of records and would nullify Executive Order 13233. E.O. 13233, issued by President Bush in November 2001, gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely.

A hold has been placed on the bill to allow concerns of Senator Tom Coburn [R-OK] and other Republicans to be addressed before proceeding with floor action.

The Presidential Records Act has been in the spotlight lately because of the possible violation of the Act by officials misusing unofficial email accounts, and the Vice President’s claim that he is not part of the Executive Branch which adds to questions of records preservation and accountability.

 

ACTION: Contact your Senators to ask them to urge Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring the "Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007" (H.R. 1255/S. 886) to the Senate floor. Senate offices can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202)-224-3121. [from the National Coalition for History]

News from Coalition Partners and Others

 

Declassified documents reveal 25 years of illegal surveillance
The National Security Archive at George Washington University published declassified documents that reveal that the Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s. The CIA released the "family jewels" report to the Archives today.

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