Republicans and the records rabbit hole of presidential libraries

Thanking President George H. Bush, Presidents may have a rabbit hole to shield their records, paper and electronic. Republicans are clueless when it came to getting to the bottom of Obama administration wrongdoing. Instead, it was the far more competent watchdogs at Judicial Watch.

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An artist's conception of the Obama Presidential Library.

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2017 — An odd thing happened on the way to an investigation into so-called collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russians:

  • We discovered President Obama’s former national security advisor Susan Rice ordered the illegal unmasking of Americans named in domestic, extra-constitutional U.S. intelligence spying reports;
  • we learned that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, according to testimony by former FBI Director James Comey, ordered the FBI to downplay its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illegal handling of government secrets in her official emails, eventually refusing to follow up with the appointment of a special prosecutor;
  • we learned that White House Security Council documents that could shed more light on these matters are locked securely in a vault meant for Barack Obama’s presidential library at Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Susan Rice, James Comey and Loretta Lynch.

But it was not congressional Republicans who discovered that last bit of info. As frustrated GOP voters all know, Republican lawmakers are as utterly clueless when it came to getting to the bottom of Obama administration wrongdoing as they currently are at repealing Obamacare.

Instead, it was the far more competent watchdogs at Judicial Watch.

After requesting documents from the White House National Security Council through the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch was informed by letter:


“Documents from the Obama administration have been transferred to the Barack Obama Presidential Library … However, you should be aware that under the Presidential Records Act, Presidential records remain closed to the public for five years after an administration has left office,” wrote John Powers, Director of Access Management for the White House.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a press release:

“Prosecutors, Congress, and the public will want to know when the National Security Council shipped off the records about potential intelligence abuses by Susan Rice and others in the Obama White House to the memory hole of the Obama Presidential Library.”

It’s wishful thinking for Fitton to assume Justice Department prosecutors, many of whom are Obama administration holdovers, will show any interest in getting to the bottom of their former boss’s skulduggery.

And it’s a triumph of hope over experience for the folks at Judicial Watch to believe bungling congressional Republicans will be any more skillful at unveiling the Obama administration’s domestic spying operations against their own party than they were at unraveling which of Obama’s cronies was behind the gunrunning scheme to arm Mexico’s deadly Sinaloa drug cartel.

As it turns out, hiding presidential documents from the prying eyes of investigators, researchers and the public is nothing new. Former President Bill Clinton (surprise! surprise!) withheld an estimated 33,000 such documents (didn’t wife Hillary destroy an equal number of incriminating emails?). He did this even after the law required public disclosure of his presidential documents.

As a 2014 article in Politico noted:

“The long-sealed records pose a delicate series of choices for the Clintons, and even President Barack Obama. They could allow disclosure of the papers, fueling new stories about old controversies like Whitewater and pardons granted as the 42nd president [Bill Clinton] left office in 2001. Or they could fight to keep some or all of the files secret, likely triggering a court battle and stoking concerns that the former president and his wife are unduly secretive.”

And who was it that fought so hard to give ex-presidents the ability to hide documents of an embarrassing or criminal nature?

Republican President George H.W. Bush.

President George H.W. Bush.

In 2007, historian Anna Nelson reminded the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that it was Richard Nixon’s attempt to “hide and control his records” that forced legislators to pass the Presidential Records Act in the first place.

But President George H. Bush’s Executive Order 13233

“gave back to the heirs of the Presidents the right to make decisions on access … Presidential records are now vast collections … There were 27 million pieces of paper in the Reagan Library; 64 million in the Clinton Library, of which 12 million are classified.”

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said Bush’s executive order made it impossible

“to investigate the gifts given to President Clinton at the end of his term. The problem with this executive order is that it would take one of the words out of the title of this committee, and that word is ‘oversight.’”

 

Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama.

It appears Bush the Elder’s executive order helped future Democratic presidents hide their criminal activities while allowing tired and lazy congressional Republicans to live guilt free as they fail to fulfill their constitutional mandate to provide oversite into, say, the criminal activities of Democratic administrations.

With enemies like Republicans, Democrats don’t really need many friends.

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