Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and historians Stanley Kutler and Martin Sherwin filed a complaint on September 8 against Vice President Cheney, the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the Archivist of the Unites States and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking a federal judge to declare that Vice President Cheney’s records are covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and that the records must be preserved for the American public.
In 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records. The executive order also declared that the PRA applied only to the “executive records” of the vice president. Since this executive order, Vice President Cheney has repeatedly declared that he and the OVP are not part of the executive branch. Advocates fear that Vice President Cheney and the OVP may not turn over their records to NARA at the end of this administration, instead disposing of the records under the presumption that the Vice President and OVP are not covered by the PRA.
According to the Washington Post, Cheney spokesman Jamie Hennigan said, “The Office of the Vice President currently follows the Presidential Records Act and will continue to follow the requirements of the law, which includes turning over vice presidential records to the National Archives at the end of the term.” Recent events, however, have advocates rightly concerned. For example, David Addington, now chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, testified on June 26, 2008 before the House Judiciary Committee that the vice president “belongs to neither” branch but is “attached by the Constitution” to Congress.
Two bills supported by AALL, H.R. 1255 and S. 886, would reverse E.O. 13233 by establishing a deadline for the review of records, limiting the authority of former presidents to withhold records, requiring the president to make privilege claims personally, and eliminating the ability for vice presidents to assert executive privilege claims over vice presidential records. However, with little time left in the 110th Congress, it seems unlikely that the bills will move this year. [Ed. Note: H.R. 1255 passed the House in March 2007. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has maintained a hold on the bill, preventing it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. See our previous action alert for more information.]
[Posted by Emily Feldman]