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Congressman offers presidential records bill to nullify Bush order

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Mar 18, 2002    

Congressman offers presidential records bill to nullify Bush order

  • Rep. Stephen Horn introduced the Presidential Records Act Amendments to require incumbent and former presidents to make specific claims of executive privilege before blocking records release.

A Republican congressman this month began soliciting co-sponsors for a bill designed to nullify an executive order from President Bush that effectively stifles the release of White House records of former presidents.

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) said his bill, the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2002, would “fix a serious, but readily solvable, problem in the implementation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978.” Horn, in a letter sent to all Congress members, said the Bush administration caused excessive delays in releasing records from the Reagan years by crafting Executive Order 13233.

The Presidential Records Act, passed after the Watergate scandals, opened most records of a former president to the public 12 years after the end of his administration. The National Archives was prepared in January 2001 to release about 68,000 pages of White House records but the Bush administration requested numerous extensions until it could craft the executive order.

The Bush order — Executive Order 13233 — allows both a sitting president and a former president to halt the release of a past president’s records even after 12 years by simply exerting any privilege. Under the order, the burden of the records’ openness lies with the requester.

Horn said his proposal recognizes the right of the current and former presidents to exert executive privilege.

“However, unlike the Executive Order, it does so in a manner that is fully consistent with the Act,” Horn wrote to his colleagues, noting that the Bush order prevents disclosure of records “unless and until” both the incumbent and former president approve their release.

Horn’s bill, if passed, would require the former or incumbent president to exert any claim of privilege in writing, stating the specific nature and grounds of such a claim.

If a former president makes the claim, the National Archives would hold the records for 20 working days to allow him to seek judicial recourse. The Archives would release the records after 20 days unless a court directed the records to be withheld. If an incumbent president makes such a claim, the Archives would hold the records until the president or a court allows them to be disclosed.

Meanwhile, a coalition of historians and open-government advocates, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a federal lawsuit on Nov. 28, claiming the order illegally circumvents the law. The lawsuit, in part, sought the immediate release of the Reagan records as well as thousands of records.

To date, the National Archives has released all but about 150 records of the Reagan White House. Thousands of former Vice President George H.W. Bush’s records remain sealed.

(Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2002) PT

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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