In a booklet issued by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), former President Gerald Ford is quoted as saying, “The past can instruct the present not only in the art of leadership, but also in the opportunities of citizenship.” Yet if the records of those libraries have been cleansed, or if they are indefinitely controlled by a president (or vice president), as Bush and Cheney can do under Bush’s radical Executive Order 13233, then the past’s message to the present can hardly be a very meaningful or realistic instruction.
The whole question of Bush’s so called privilege is the root of the issue. Congress passed a law, the 1978 Presidential Records Act. The law’s constitutionality has never been legally challenged and the Constitution dictates, demands that the executive branch must adhere to laws by by Congress – Article VI – Article 6 includes an important part of the Constitution called the supremacy clause. The Constitution is the highest law of the land. The Constitution, the laws of Congress, and all treaties must be followed by all states. State laws must agree with the Constitution. State judges must know that the Constitution is supreme over state laws. All members of Congress, the President and all executive branch officials, all Supreme Court justices and federal judges, all members of state legislatures, all governors and state officials, all state judges take an oath of office and swear to obey the United States Constitution. Bush’s claim and of course his supporters in yet another instance of Republican situational ethics, that Bush can skirt laws passed by Congress with an executive order. Perfectly suitable behavior for Stalin and his ideologically pure Kremlin, but not so much according to even the most myopic interpretation of the U.S. Constitution whether explicit or implied. There’s no question that this is one among many instances where Bush/Cheney have broken the law and betrayed their oath of office. Dean goes on to explain that yes the nest president can over turn Bush’s executive order, but that is hardly good news. Bush will be allowed to hide and destroy documentation of his wrong doing as long as he is in office.
Unfortunately, even if a President Hillary were to change Executive Order 13233, the change would have no impact on Bush and Cheney, for, by the time it occurs, they will have done whatever they are doing, and when they leave, they will not yet be subject to a new order. Moreover, violations of the 1978 Presidential Records Act carry no sanctions whatsoever.
Conversely, however, if a President Rudy were to make even more aggressive changes than Bush did, and include past presidents within the scope of his new Executive Order, Bush and Cheney could benefit, taking advantage of the even more favorable situation to further hide their history.
Private citizens can do something. At least in theory. Some historians sued to enforce the Presidential Records Act of 1978 but, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has jumped on the case like a herd of turtles. It’s gathering dust as the Judge seems placated by the administrations occasionally giving up a document or two when it feels like it. Bush is not just the worse president in our history, but probably the most petulant. Congress with quite a few Republicans joining in have tried to do something, but the wingnuttery in the Senate runs deep,
In early March 2007, Democrats in the House of Representatives (joined by a significant number of Republicans) passed a bill to preserve Presidential records in the Senate, with an overwhelming majority vote of 333 to 93. When the bill arrived in the Senate, it similarly flew through the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. However, on its way to the passage in the Senate, this bill met the fate many others passed by the House have met: Senate Republicans stopped it.
More specifically, one or more secret holds have been placed on the legislation, which surely would pass the Senate with a solid majority, if put to a vote. It seems that Republican Senators are willing to allow the Bush White House to do whatever it wants with its papers. Moreover, the very fact that Bush has threatened to veto any new law that reversed his Executive Order 13233 has been sufficient for the Senate Democrats to back off, since they do not have a veto-proof Senate.
Dean suggests two things, one symbolic. Do whatever wrangling it takes to lose the secret hold and put it to a vote. Forcing Bush to veto this bill would be another nail in the arrogant messianic legacy of this failed presidency. The other route, and there’s no reason not to do both since the administration likes to play constitutional hardball, is to refuse to fund the Bush Presidential library. While the library structures are privately funded Administration by NARA is essential for their operation. Congress must approve funding for the NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) portion of the operation. If Congress fails as they ultimately did in their push to hold Reagan accountable for Iran-Contra we’re going to be plaqued with this kind of hubris from future presidents of both parties. It is the rare president who has given up power gathered up by a previous president. Will a president Edwards, Obama or Clinton be more respectful of the Constitution and the limits of presidential power. They probably will, but why leave such important issues to the blowing winds of politics and personalties.