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An expanding cloak of secrecy

By
June 2, 2007

In the past year, lawyers for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney directed the Secret Service to maintain the confidentiality of visitor logs, declaring them to be presidential records.

The drive to keep secret the lists of visitors to the White House complex and Cheney's home, the administration says, is essential to ensuring the president and vice president receive candid advice to carry out their duties. The decision made the logs exempt from a law requiring their disclosure to whoever asks to see them.

The latest part of the strategy emerged this week when the government disclosed a letter from Cheney's counsel placing visitor logs for his personal residence on the Naval Observatory grounds in the category of presidential records.

The Secret Service is turning over all visitors' data to the White House.

"Every record from the U.S. Secret Service received by the White House or the office of the vice president is being preserved pursuant to the Presidential Records Act," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday.

Cheney's counsel wrote the Secret Service last September, stating the agency "shall not retain any copy of these documents and information" once the material is given to Cheney's office.

A week ago, the government filed court papers stating that the Secret Service is retaining copies of the visitor logs because of pending lawsuits, and that Cheney's office agrees with the decision.

A private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has filed two lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act seeking Secret Service visitor logs. But the FOIA does not apply to presidential records.

The Bush administration has exploited that different treatment of records between the two laws, which prompted the fight in federal court. The administration is seeking dismissal of the lawsuits.

In trying to get the cases thrown out, the Justice Department has filed documents in court outlining a behind-the-scenes debate over whether Secret Service records are subject to public disclosure. The discussions date back at least to the administration of President Bush's father and involve the Justice Department and the National Archives as well as the White House and Secret Service.

The government's court filings show that the Bush White House focused on the issue in the months before Election Day 2004.

Discussions moved into high gear when the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal prompted news organizations and private groups to demand that the administration release Secret Service records of visitors to the White House complex and the vice president's residence.

There was precedent for the demands.

During the Clinton administration, Republican-controlled congressional committees obtained Secret Service visitor logs while conducting investigations of the president and first lady.

Christopher Lehane, a former special assistant counsel to President Clinton and press secretary to then-Vice President Al Gore, points out the political implications of the Bush administration campaign to close off access to the records.

"The question it raises is 'What are these guys hiding?'" said Lehane, now a Democratic consultant. "They can live with it because they've only got a year or so left, but it doesn't do a lot for public confidence in open government."

Fratto said Thursday, "I can't comment on a case in litigation, and I can't speak to the decisions made by other administrations."

The Bush administration says it is standing on principle.

"It is important that the president be able to receive candid advice from his staff and other members of the administration," Fratto said. "To ensure that he receives candid advice, it is essential as a general matter that the advice remains confidential."

In a declaration filed in court a week ago, Cheney's deputy chief of staff, Claire O'Donnell, said that "systematic public release of the information regarding when and with whom the vice president and vice presidential personnel conduct meetings would impinge on the ability of the OVP (office of the vice president) to gather information in confidence and perform its essential functions, including assisting the vice president in his critical roles of advising and assisting the president."

In May 2006, the Secret Service and the White House signed a memorandum of understanding designating visitor records as presidential.

They are "not the records of an 'agency' subject to the Freedom of Information Act," says the agreement that was not disclosed until months later, in late 2006. The records are "at all times under the exclusive legal custody and control of the White House."

Four months after the memorandum of agreement, Cheney's counsel wrote to the Secret Service, stating that visitor records for the vice president's personal residence "are and shall remain subject to the exclusive ownership, custody and control of OVP."

The Sept. 13, 2006, date on the Cheney letter coincides with requests by The Washington Post seeking records on the vice president's visitors under the Freedom of Information Act.

"If any documents remain in your possession, please return them to OVP as soon as possible," the letter stated.

The Justice Department filed the Cheney letter last Friday in one of the lawsuits brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is invoking the FOIA law in seeking the identities of conservative religious leaders who visited the White House complex and the vice president's residence.

The group, which represents Valerie Plame and her husband in their lawsuit against Cheney and other key administration figures in the leak of Plame's CIA identity, also is seeking White House visitor logs in the Abramoff scandal.

According to government documents, the Secret Service routinely destroyed five of eight categories of information relating to visitors to Cheney's residence. Of the records it retained, the Secret Service regularly turned over handwritten visitor logs to Cheney's office.

The Secret Service stopped the destruction in June 2006 because of lawsuits by various groups, according to the court papers. The law enforcement agency also is retaining copies of the material, contrary to the directive in the September 2006 letter from Cheney's counsel.

The court filings by the government show that:

_On three occasions late in the administration of the first President Bush and during the first term of President Clinton, the Secret Service proposed treating copies of White House visitor documents as non-presidential records. In its court filings, the current Bush administration opposes releasing details of the Secret Service proposals, saying this "poses a substantial risk of creating public confusion" because the proposals were never adopted.

_In January 2001, as Clinton prepared to leave office, White House lawyers proposed the transfer of visitor records from the Secret Service to the White House. The proposal was entitled "Disposition of certain presidential records created by the USSS," or the Secret Service. The records are now at the Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., the National Archives confirmed Thursday.

_In September 2004, a lawyer for the Bush White House and a special assistant to the director of the Secret Service proposed "informal views on one way to address the disposition" of visitor records, according to court documents. The unnamed associate White House counsel and the Secret Service assistant jointly authored a July 29, 2004, document bearing the same title as the Clinton administration document from 3 1/2 years earlier.

_In July 2005, the Secret Service gave a presentation on the issue to the White House counsel's office, the Justice Department and the National Archives.

_On May 11, 2006, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel provided a legal opinion on the issue, which is among the many documents the government is refusing to disclose. Six days later, the White House and the Secret Service signed the agreement designating the records as presidential.

Presidential records are released starting five years after a president leaves office. Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, nonclassified material is disclosed first, with classified documents and advice to the president released later after review by federal agencies, the White House and the former president.

Under an executive order President Bush signed in 2001, the archivist of the United States cannot unilaterally release the records without the permission of the current president, former presidents and their representatives.

"The scary thing about this move by the vice president's office is the power grab part of it," said Tom Blanton, head of the National Security Archive, a private group that uses the FOIA law to pierce government secrecy.

"We're looking at a huge problem if the White House can reach into any agency and say certain records have something to do with the White House and they are presidential from now on," Blanton said. "This White House has been infinitely creative in finding new ways and new forms of government secrecy."

9 Responses to An expanding cloak of secrecy

  1. Sandra Price

    June 2, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Both residences are owned and operated under the American People’s choice. One of the first things we, as voters must do is to remove all records from the visitors of both places and give them to the Congress. They are not Kings, but elected representatives put into power by the voters and they should be made to realize they must listen to our demands.

    I’m making a list of things that need to be fixed before I ever make another vote for anyone. We Americans are losing our privacy daily to these horrible men and we have the right to know who is wandering around our own estates. Cheney and Bush are simply temporary residents!

    We wine and dine our own enemies in these residences and it should stop! If any meetings between nations is necessary we have facilites on the Hill to do it. We do not need any more secret treaties done by our President and Vice President.

    NO MORE GOVERNMENT SECRECY!

  2. Wayne K Dolik

    June 2, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Very well said Sandy! I couldn’t agree with you more. Lets get this secrecy thing over. If it’s all about “Oil” then tell the American People the truth.

    Many people think John Kennedy was killed because; he called for the end of secret societies and secrecies in our Government. So let the masters of double speak tell us the truth. Most, of us are quite intelligent and can decide for ourselves.

    An acquaintance of mine was invited to President Reagan’s Whitehouse for dinner one night. She was very rich. She Told president Reagan, “in 4 years you will be gone and I’ll will still be around”!

    Secrecy is a lie.

  3. Carl Nemo

    June 3, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Great commentary both Sandy Price and Wayne Dolik; btw two of my favorite commentators…:)

    The Secret Service personnel take the duty “feelgood” oath of protecting and defending the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. Yes the President “is” the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the U.S., but I do not get the impression this gives hime the “Kings X” to commit crimes under the umbrella of the Presidential Seal. It amazes how his Praetorian Guard; i.e., the Secret Service, followed by the FBI and no doubt the local police would simply follow a presidential order to obstruct justice or to engage as accomplices in such acts, but they do so all the time. I guess as low level civil servants all they have on their collective minds are to get their time-in and hopefully retire. They aren’t interested in principals or taking a position on any issue. Little do they realize they are using the Adolph Eichmann overide; i.e., “I was only following orders from higher authority”…! We all know what that got for 6 milllion jews…no?! :|

    Hey what if a Secret Service agent witnessed a president snorting cocaine, shooting up heroin etc., or engaging any any other patently illegal activity; i.e., violating Federal, State, and local statues. Would any of them have the intestinal fortitude; i.e., the balls to slap the cuffs on the sob and read him his rights. I think not. These type of laws are for the pedestrian class; i.e. you and me. :| This is not a nation of laws, this is a nation of laws for “we the people”, but not them no doubt!

    I’ve been around a long time and have watched the degeneration of our government from the assassination of Kennedy to present. Now I’m going to digress for a bit to bring people up to speed as to why we are in our current fix as a nation.

    ***********************************************
    It’s amazing how many folks in the U.S. are lazy-thoughted and somehow believe Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the Twin Towers destruction. The entire plot was hatched by Saudi terrorists with links even to highest level personages in the Saudi regime. After 9/11 Saudi’s were shuttled to safety out of our country. We have to remember they are like “family” to the Bushistas.

    So after invading Afghanistan in order to make a feelgood chase attempt after OBL, Bushco turns around and then invades Iraq. The whole scheme is a case of just another CIA script being executed for the benefit of the MIC and the “oil patch”. I call these schemes international social psychodrama. Script intentionally engineered to achieve the sinister ends of the mega-wealthy oligarchs that control everything that’s worth anything on this planet. The Saudi oil field reserves are classified, but reliable sources say they are puffed by at least 50 percent and are due to run out a lot sooner than expected.

    Since Iraq had been under the control a retrograde dictator for so long who did little to increase the state of the art oil extraction techniques over the years while in power, it is presumed Iraq is sitting on top of an ocean of oil as opposed to Saudi Arabia and even Iran. Saddam was simply into himself and the maintenance of his regime and as long as he had his palaces and access to an ocean of cash from what oil they did sell on the markets he could have cared less about developing them to their peak potential. So Iraq represents a large piece of juicy “oil fruit” to these Western “pirate capitalists” like the Bushistas.

    People have to get it in their heads that just about everything the U.S. administration tells it’s people and the world is nothing but a contrivance for the benefit of their corporatist bottom line. The Bushistas and their ilk are scheming 24/7/365 on how to fetch oil from the bowels of the planet, human rights be damned.

    If the American people had the gumption to resist like the people in the Middle East; i.e., resisting our incursion onto their lands then we’d have gotten rid of this collection of corporatist mattoids 50 years ago. The Nixon Whitehouse scandals should have caused the people to wake up, but they were lulled to sleep again with a pipe-smoking, low profile Gerry Ford type, then Jimmy Carter became the relief pitcher for four years until they could plug an easily controlled dead-head like Ronald Reagan, no doubt with onset dementia, along with his all too cunning V.P., H.W. Bush, Mr. CIA who spent Reagans entire term meddling in the affairs of other countries in a grand style. Think not, then I’ll supply some links to demonstrate how bad it was under Reagan/Bush and it never stops.

    The M.I. Complex along with our intelligence agencies have become the fiercest dragon of dragons breathing it’s fire and death over the entire earth. It’s a very hungry dragon and is never satisfied. It’s feeding on the wealth of nations and the people’s of the earth.

    The “Third World Traveler” links I’ve provided represent some the most factual links anyone could have concerning our intelligence services constant meddling in third world affairs, all for the benefit of their NWO/AIPAC controllers. I suggest people save these links and bury their noses into the material. Once finished with extensive reading you’ll feel a sense of helplessness washing over you when you realize how invasive these organizations have become. I might as well let people in on a simple fact. The Presidency of the United States has been compromised by the CIA starting with the Kennedy assassination. Everything going on in our government at the highest levels is puppeteered by a shadowy cabal of CIA insiders who are ultimately controlled by mega-wealthy NWO button people who ultimately call the shots and truly own everything that’s worth anything in view on this planet. We and the people’s of the world simply do not have a say as far as they are concerned. We are all squatter’s; i.e, using their resources and land as far as they are concerned. An average citizen simply doesn’t have a clue as to how the sociopathic minds of Bush/Cheney operate, at our collective hazard.

    http://www.sullivan-county.com/id2/list.htm
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/CIA/Reagan_CIA.html
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/CIA/CovertActivities_CIA.html
    http://www.jfkmurdersolved.com/bush.htm

    The Whitehouse actions concerning Cheney’s household secrecy is just an extension of they thumbing their noses at the “groundlings”; i.e., “we the people” who pay the freight through our tax dollars. They are elitists to the core and we mean nothing to them. So unless our duly elected “disappointments” in Congress get crackin’ and bring these mattoids to justice…we are finished as a nation. Time is running out and I think November 2008 is too far off relative to our nation’s safety.

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. gene

    June 3, 2007 at 1:29 am

    To all those who posted above…excellent and extremely informative comments….thankyou.

    I can remember (several decades ago) when individuals (at least most that I personally new) gave a dam about what was happening in their on “back yard”. This concern (generally speaking) seemingly does not exsist in the volumn it should these days. In its place a new reality is born, ie. my life, my world, my dreams and if you have any, my money. To hell with everthing else.

    You counter (screaming)… people are dieing in Iraq, young soldiers with pimples,Iraqi children and their mothers who were for the most part better off before Mr. “commander and chief idiot” decided to do his “thing” after hereing from God himself and still you here……..my life, my dreams, my house in the subburs.

    I simply cannot imagine any way but down. The world financially, morally and spiritually is bankrupt a thousand times over. Only a real God can save this planet now. Soon, within months, this country will more than likely fine inself in a very severe recession, if not depression. The dollar continues to loose the imagined value in has. Soon this value will turn negative…. “a days wage for a loaf of bread”

    Thank God I just had a good stiff drink!!!!!

  5. Jenifer D.

    June 3, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Honestly, I doubt shrub and cock were rightly voted into office; who in their right mind puts their trust into an electronic voting system that is not only vulnerable to hackers, but, leaves no paper trail? How about the absentee votes that don’t get counted? Shrub and cock took office by treachery and lies. Don’t be surprised if they seek to overturn the 22nd amendment before their stolen term is up.

  6. Sandra Price

    June 3, 2007 at 9:58 am

    I worked in the Defense Industry where every project we handled as a writer had a classification from Confidential to Stop Secret. We understood why, as we were designing and building the Falcon Missile. As a writer I had to issue the classification of any document that I wrote about. We had a special division who would do this for us and a simple change of nomenclature would down grade from Top Secret to Secret. We were not allowed to use the phrase “infra-red” and would replace it with “the new source of detection” You get the picture.

    We in no way were plotting a change in design or ways of getting the information to a foreign enemy and we acted as a team to make our projects successful.

    Our aim was to kill the enemy (N. Korea.) What the hell is being discussed in the two homes of our POTUS and VPOTUS that is being kept secret from all of us? It has been clear from 9/11 that they do not even know who attacked us, why and would again? The only thing they must hide behind is how much of 9/11 did they know about?

    I would hope that this secrecy that has defined the Bush Administration would be a part of the debate facing the voters in 2008. No one is complaining about the Pentagon being under secret conditions but the homes of our government leaders having the same restrictions?

    Another thing that we must not overlook is Doug Thompson’s approach to exposing so many of these commentaries to all of us. I learned of the underbelly of politics here at CHB starting over 10 years ago. I love the fact he brings in writers from all over the States to discuss the issues. I also love the idea that we can comment on them for our own discussions.

  7. Rick Fuller

    June 4, 2007 at 3:22 am

    We all know this is an attempt to keep Jeff Gannon’s name off of the visitor’s log – THIS time. The White House doesn’t want anymore embarrassing information released about Mr. Gannon’s clandestine visits to the White House when there are no press conferences at 11:30 p.m.

    Not familiar with Mr. Jeff Gannon and his late-night White House rendezvous? Google® his name!

  8. mojibyrd

    June 4, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Come now folks is this any surprise to any of us…”the decider” has decided that it will be him to decide what you can view and hear and do when he decide’s you can….as i doubt they are trying to hide the fact that only Gannon or Palfrey’s gang were the only ‘interesting’ visitors to the white house.

    I just do not understand how America and it’s citizen’s put up with this bullshit anymore…what happen to pride in one’s self, pride in one’s country, pride in our constitution and freedom’s….oh wait American Idol is about to announce the results…gotta go..

    Wake up before your in one of those concentration camps KKR is building fellow citizens!

    Impeach Bush Now!!

  9. Caine

    June 4, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    …if this “cloak of secrecy” also includes their shopping lists? I mean, it would be a national security incident if someone found out how much shit paper these folks buy to wipe their asses!

    Fortunately, we can tell without their shopping lists how full of shit they actually are!!!