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Secrecy Covered on Citizen Vox

Public Citizen will continue to shine a spotlight on any government attempts to keep secrets from the American people and will cover open government issues on its Citizen Vox blog. Check it out here!

Posted 01-22-2009 10:25 AM EDT

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Presidential Records Are Property of the People

On Jan. 10, The New York Times published a poignant editorial (“Who Owns White House History?”)  that serves as a note to the departing administration, saying, in effect: President Bush – your records belong to everyone! The Presidential Records Act says so!

The editorial also expresses hopefulness that Congress will strike down a Bush executive order that says a current or former president can indefinitely withhold presidential papers.

“If there’s any delay, we urge President-elect Barack Obama to issue his own executive order restoring the Presidential Records Act as soon as he enters the White House,” the editorial states.

Here’s hoping that the era of secrecy is coming to an end!

Posted 01-12-2009 5:09 PM EDT

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Secretive ‘Til the End

The lame-duck Bush administration is in its waning days, but its fondness for keeping secrets is as strong as ever …

On Jan. 9, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the administration’s push to keep identities of White House visitors secret, according to The Associated Press.

The judge also said the government illegally disposed of Secret Service computer records.

The ruling was the latest step in a years-long battle for access to the visitors’ logs. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, requested the records in 2006.

Posted 01-12-2009 5:06 PM EDT

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The Presidential E-mail Caper – This Time, the Good Guys Win!

On Nov. 10, a federal judge ruled that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive can pursue a lawsuit that seeks to retrieve millions of possibly missing White House e-mails.

The government had argued that courts do not have authority to order the White House to retrieve the e-mails. The government requested that the case be thrown out, according to an Associated Press story published in The Washington Post. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy rejected this request.

The ruling is “a clear victory for the American people. The Executive Office of the President does have to answer for the missing e-mail,” said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan in the Post.

Posted 11-13-2008 4:13 PM EDT

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Bush Secrecy: The Next Chapter?

Will the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy continue, even when the president leaves office in January?

A Nov. 13 New York Times article suggests that it might.

It appears that a precedent exists for doing so: After President Harry Truman left office, a congressional committee subpoenaed him.

Truman claimed that – even though his term had expired – he still had the authority to block such subpoenas. And Congress backed down.

Therein lies the fear that President George W. Bush will do something similar.

“The Bush administration overstepped in its exertion of executive privilege, and may very well try to continue to shield information from the American people after it leaves office,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in the Times. Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Judiciary and intelligence committees, which are examining Bush policies.

Posted 11-13-2008 3:47 PM EDT

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Court: Miers, Bolton Don't Have to Testify on Court Rulings Yet

An Oct. 6 federal appeals court ruling has allowed former White House counsel Harriet Miers and the president’s Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten to avoid testifying before Congress on issues related to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys – at least for a while.

The three-judge panel said the case would not be “fully and finally resolved” by the end of this Congress, according to The Washington Post

The court granted a delay in the case until it rules on an appeal by Miers and Bolten of a July court order to produce documents and testimony related to the firings.

However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) isn’t giving up, according to CNN.

“While the delay caused by this incorrect decision is unfortunate, at the end of the day, I believe [District Court] Judge [John] Bates’ decision will be affirmed and that Harriet Miers and other key witnesses will appear before the House Judiciary Committee,” Conyers said.

Posted 10-07-2008 1:01 PM EDT

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Vice presidential trivia

Here’s a seemingly simple question for you: Is the vice president’s office located within the executive branch?

To most people, the answer would probably be yes. If you’re Vice President Dick Cheney, the answer is no – that he is attached to the Congress because he presides over the Senate.

But a federal judge has just ruled that, in fact, Cheney is a part of the executive branch – and, as such, he has to preserve his official records.

The Sept. 20 ruling was a response to a lawsuit filed this month by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, and others. (See stories in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

See, now that Bush and Co. are on their way out of office, the administration is trying to narrowly define what materials must be saved under the Presidential Records Act. This ruling orders the administration to preserve the records at least while the lawsuit is ongoing.

“It’s a pretty strong opinion,” Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW, told the Post. “They will be prevented from destroying anything. It basically means they have to preserve everything in the broadest possible interpretation of what the law requires – not their narrow interpretation.”

Posted 09-23-2008 11:40 AM EDT

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The administration still won’t budge …

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a Sept. 11 hearing at which Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, is supposed to appear.

A federal judge recently ruled that a delay of an order requiring Miers to testify on issues related to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 was unnecessary, according to the Sept. 1 Washington Post (second item).

But the administration is still not giving up. Last Thursday, the Justice Department petitioned the appeals court to issue a stay.

And the fight continues ….

Posted 09-02-2008 1:36 PM EDT

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‘Let the Sunshine In’

Wow! Is the administration going soft? On July 23, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee a copy of a December 2007 proposal to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, according to The Washington Post.

Oh, wait. This was after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), committee chair, threatened a subpoena.

And the committee could only borrow the documents. It had to give them back after it was done. Lawmakers were allowed to take “reasonable notes” on the documents, which were e-mailed to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget last year in response to a related Supreme Court decision, according to the Post.

The e-mail contained some key information, including the fact that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson believes that it’s a reasonable conclusion that “current and future emissions of greenhouse gases will contribute to future climate change.”

The fact that the administration is trying to keep these types of documents from the public is appalling.

“It is more than outrageous that documents that pertain to the health and safety and very lives of our citizens are being hidden from the American people,” Boxer said. “I will continue the fight on their behalf to let the sunshine in.”

Please do.

Posted 08-04-2008 1:13 PM EDT

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Sneaky, sneaky ...

With less than a year to go, the Bush administration is still trying to sneak through some last-minute changes to federal regulations under the radar and out of the public’s eye.

Luckily, The Washington Post caught wind of the latest sneak attack. In stories July 23 and 24, the newspaper exposes the Labor Department’s attempt to ram through a rule that would make it more difficult to set limits on workplace toxins.

The proposal would call for another look at the methods used to measure the risks posed by workplace toxin exposure. It also would address industry complaints that the government “overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals,” according to the Post.

Oh, and the icing on this chemical-infused cake? The proposal would require the agency to allow an additional round of challenges to the Labor Department’s risk assessments – an extra step sure to make the process more difficult.

“This is a guarantee to keep any more worker safety regulation from ever coming out of [the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration],” said David Michaels, epidemiologist and workplace safety professor at George Washington University. “This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration.”

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) – chairmen of the Senate and House labor committees, respectively – are demanding that the agency withdraw the proposal.

“For nearly eight years, this administration has consistently failed to respond in a meaningful way to the real health and safety threats workers face while on the job,” Miller said in the Post. “But now they will stop at nothing to rush through a secret rule that will tie the hands of health and safety experts.”

Posted 07-24-2008 12:58 PM EDT

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