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Presidential Records Remain Sealed By Bush

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  1. Freedom of Information
From the Winter 2004 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 24.

From the Winter 2004 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 24.

Attempting to place his gubernatorial records outside the reach of the Texas Public Information Act was not President George W. Bush’s only effort to limit access to executive records.

On Nov. 1, 2001, Bush signed Executive Order 13233. Prior to the order, presidential records were sealed for 12 years, after which they were reviewed for release by the National Archives. Under the new order, both the former and incumbent president must review the records before they are released by the archives, and either could block disclosure indefinitely.

A number of Bush’s current advisors were also members of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s administrations, and their actions could be detailed in the documents. Reagan’s 12-year limit was to expire in 2001.

Tom Smith, director of the Texas state office of public interest group Public Citizen, sees this as an attempt by Bush to shield himself and his family from criticism.

“When I watch this from 20 years of Bushes in Texas, there is a real desire to build legacy,” Smith said. “Both he and his father have attempted to circumvent the open meeting and open records acts.”

A coalition of historians and open government advocates, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Public Citizen, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28, 2001. In American Historical Association v. National Archives and Records Administration, the coalition contends that the executive order illegally circumvents the Presidential Records Act of 1968 and asks for an injunction preventing the order from being enforced. As a result of the suit, some records have been released.

The parties have filed opposing motions to summarily dismiss the case and are currently awaiting the court’s action.

— GP

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