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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


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


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


‘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


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


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


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


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


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


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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