Former President George W. Bush has instructed the National Archives to release nine categories of documents from his presidency to the public, a much broader directive than expected.
POLITICO reported last week that Bush signed a letter to the Archives three years ago allowing the keeper of presidential records to release, among other things, informational and factual memoranda, talking points on policy decisions, and recommendations about whether to sign legislation. POLITICO obtained the letter through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"The relatively expansive directive stands in contrast to Bush’s approach to the public’s right to know while he was in office," POLITICO noted.
The letter, which was generally praised by openness advocates, is seen by some as building upon a similar letter signed by former President Bill Clinton in 2002.
“Clinton’s letter was meant to ease restrictions in categories but was so vague that the Archives would have to consult with Clinton’s [representatives] in almost every case.” said Scott Nelson of Public Citizen.
President Bush's letter, however, provided the Archives with more independence and flexibility.
“Bush’s letter to the Archives’ language was more open and generous than Clinton’s because Bush consulted with the Archives [beforehand]." said Tom Blanton of the National Security Archives.
The letter, however, might not be the determinate factor in how the Archives handles requests.
“It will all depend on how it is done in practice or the letter won’t amount to much. An appearance of openness by Bush could be undone if Bush's [representatives] discourage release." said Nelson
Bush's presidential records have only just started to be available under FOIA because presidential records are kept sealed from the public for five years after the president leaves office.
Questions still remain whether former Vice President Dick Cheney's records will also become more accessible under the directive of the letter, as the statute governing vice-presidential records is unclear whether the letter's directive would control these records.
“I would guess Cheney would fight hard to maintain control over his records for as long as possible.” said Anne Weisman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.