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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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Lawsuit: Disclose Agencies That Bypass Clearance Process

The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) generally requires other federal agencies to run budgetary materials, proposed legislation, reports and even testimony by it before the agencies submit those materials to Congress. Public Citizen is trying to discover the full list of agencies that can bypass this requirement. Check out the story here.

Posted 07-17-2008 12:43 PM EDT

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Congress Attempts to Cut the White House Secrecy Habit

Good for Congress: The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill requiring the National Archives to issue stronger standards for preserving administration e-mails and to "aggressively inspect" whether an administration is complying with those standards, according to a July 13 New York Times editorial.

Bad for the public: The Bush administration is threatening a veto. This is the same administration that has allowed key e-mails to go missing - including ones from the lead-up to the Iraq war and relating to the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes.

"We fear we may never find out all that has gone missing in this administration, although we urge [c]ongressional investigators to keep trying," the Times said. "What we do know is that the Bush gaps of missing e-mails run into hundreds of thousands during some of the most sensitive political moments."

Posted 07-14-2008 12:05 PM EDT

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White House Censors Government Official

Last year, a staffer in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office censored the testimony of a high-ranking government official who wrote about the health consequences of global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official said on July 9.

According to The Washington Post, an unnamed Cheney staffer ordered six pages to be edited out of testimony from Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a letter from former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality had asked that Burnett work with the CDC to delete information about the “human health consequences of climate change,” he wrote.

“For years, we’ve suspected that Cheney was the puppeteer for administration policy on global warming,” said Frank O’Donnell, head of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, in the Post. “This kiss-and-tell account appears to confirm the worst.”

 

 

 

Posted 07-14-2008 9:57 AM EDT

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Administration Invokes Executive Privilege

In what is really no surprise, the Bush administration has invoked executive privilege in documents requested by a U.S. House of Representatives committee, according to The Washington Post.

The documents in question: Papers about the White House’s communication with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson’s decision to overrule agency officials who favored granting California and other states permission to mandate a vehicle emissions reduction.

According to lawmakers, administration officials would not respond to subpoenas for these documents.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, ended up calling off his threat of a contempt of Congress vote against Johnson and another official while Democrats figure out how exactly they should respond, according to the Post.

And an EPA official said the agency had handed over most of the documents requested - withholding fewer than 25 of more than 10,000.

Handing over a “vast majority” of the documents doesn’t mean much if the documents that are withheld contain key information. It’s still secrecy.

Posted 07-14-2008 9:52 AM EDT

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New security policy may slow FOIA process even more

Is President Bush's new security policy shrinking or expanding secrecy in government?


Last month Bush announced that a uniform governmental document classification system had finally been created.


The new system, called “controlled unclassified information,” will be used by all governmental agencies in the U.S., including state and local ones. The purpose of the system is to facilitate communications among all levels of government. As Bush put it, the goal of CUI is “to standardize practices and thereby improve the sharing of information, not to classify or declassify new or additional information."

However, some articles that have been available to the public for years have recently been reclassified. Also, critics of the new policy think that it will make governmental documents harder for the public to see than ever before. On its Secrecy News blog page, the Federation of American Scientists states that it fears that Freedom of Information Act requests could be denied for documents that have not yet been specifically approved for public viewing.


Bush has given the National Archives five years to fully implement the system. A new document classification system was proposed by the Sept. 11 commission in 2004, as a result of its findings that better communication between the FBI and CIA might have helped the agencies prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


“The best ally we have in protecting ourselves against terrorism is an informed public,” said Thomas H. Kean, co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission. Though the new policy may make communications easier among departments, it may prove to be just another obstacle in the quest for open government.

Posted 06-23-2008 1:16 PM EDT

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Judge Upholds Secrecy Claim

The White House does not have to release to the public records related to millions of missing e-mails, a federal judge ruled June 16.

According to The Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the White House’s Office of Administration (OA) is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). CREW said it is appealing the decision, according to the Post.

The ruling means that the White House can continue to keep the extent of its e-mail problems under wraps.

“We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion,” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement, as quoted by the Post. “The Bush administration is using the legal system to prevent the American people from discovering the truth about the millions of missing White House e-mails. The fact is, until CREW asked for documents pertaining to this problem, the Office of Administration routinely processed FOIA requests. Only because the administration has so much to hide here, has the White House taken the unprecedented position that OA is not subject to the FOIA.”

Posted 06-16-2008 4:40 PM EDT

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Taking the White House to Task

A June 4 New York Times editorial  excoriates the Bush administration for playing politics with climate change, hiding and manipulating scientific information about global warming.

Last week, NASA's inspector general found that the agency's political appointees in the public affairs office attempted to restrict reporter access to James Hansen, NASA's leading climate scientist - who had criticized the administration's refusal to address climate change, according to the Times

“The administration long ago secured a special place in history for bending science to its political ends,” the editorial says. “One costly result is that this nation has lost seven years in a struggle in which time is not on anyone's side.”

Posted 06-04-2008 12:43 PM EDT

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It’s Time to Make Rove Talk

Karl Rove - former political mastermind in the Bush White House - has been known to work behind the scenes.

But it looks like his time in the spotlight - on Capitol Hill, before the House Judiciary Committee - is finally approaching.

The New York Times editorialized June 2  that the committee, which has subpoenaed Rove to testify, “should do everything in its power to see that he [testifies] and that he answers all of its questions.”

This comes after the editorial notes that, during an appearance on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Rove did not “directly” deny his involvement in the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute former Democratic Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman, who was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to more than seven years. According to The Times, Siegelman had been the Democrats’ best shot of retrieving Alabama’s governorship - until his indictment.

Was the U.S. justice system manipulated to bring about a politically motivated outcome? It’s up to the House Judiciary Committee to find out.

It’s finally time for the behind-the-scenes guy to step forward.

Posted 06-02-2008 1:06 PM EDT

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What Will It Take ...

To make Karl Rove appear before the House Judiciary Committee? Rove, Bush’s former chief political adviser, already has refused the committee’s invitation to appear voluntarily.

Now, according to The New York Times, he’s been served a subpoena from the committee. But his lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, said Rove was not going to appear because the White House told him not to. (Remember, Rove is no longer working for the White House.)

Committee Democrats want Rove to appear before them so they can ask questions about the controversial decisions to dismiss several federal prosecutors and to prosecute former Democratic Alabama Gov. Donald E. Siegelman.

And if Rove refuses to testify? House Democrats are going to have to consider issuing a contempt citation, the Times said.

Posted 06-02-2008 12:48 PM EDT

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The Bush administration’s double top-secret trade deal

From Joe Newman at CitizenVox.org:

So, journalist and blogger Ed Brayton was a little curious after the U.S. government struck a deal with the European Union and other countries that compensates them in exchange for the U.S. passing online gambling laws that interfere with international trade as governed by the World Trade Organization. Brayton, who also happens to be an online poker player, was curious what exactly the U.S. was giving up in exchange. You should be too, since it is rumored that the compensation could be worth billions of dollars. The only problem is that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative refused to release details of the compensation agreement to Brayton, claiming it was a matter of national security. I’m not sure whether they did this with a straight face. Public Citizen filed suit this week on behalf of Brayton. The suit contends the Bush administration is illegally withholding the details of the compensation deal.

Brayton has written about the government’s ludicrous contention on his blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

"Yes, they are actually claiming that this document, which has nothing even remotely do to with anything that could conceivably, in Dick Cheney’s wildest imagination, have anything to do with national security, has been properly classified. Americans, according to this administration, have no right to know how many billions of our tax dollars they’ve spent with no legislative authorization whatsoever in order to buy the cooperation of other nations and allow them to continue to violate the rights of American adults by preventing them from gambling in the privacy of their own home."

And here’s what Public Citizen attorney Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer said about the secret deal:

"Americans have a right to know what kinds of trade concessions the U.S. government is granting other countries, especially when those deals have a significant impact on domestic policy and may be worth billions of dollars. The Bush administration’s decision to withhold the agreement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has more to do with its desire to prevent public and congressional scrutiny of the settlement before it is enshrined in a new WTO schedule than it does with national security. FOIA requires the agreement’s release."

You can read the complaint here.

Posted 05-21-2008 11:09 AM EDT

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