Nov. 5, 2001
Public Citizen issued the following three press
New White House Order on Secrecy of Historical
Presidential Records Is Unlawful
Bush Administration Officials Should Be
Made to Explain Actions to Congress,
Public Citizen Says
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Bush administration officials testify before
lawmakers tomorrow, they should be made to explain how an executive order issued
last week extending the secrecy of presidential documents is legal, Public
Citizen said today. Public Citizen contends that the order is not
In a letter sent to Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), Public Citizen
cited judicial decisions apparently ignored by the White House when it
promulgated the order. The order will be the subject of oversight hearings to be
held Tuesday by the House Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial
Management and Intergovernmental Relations, which Horn chairs.
last week by the Bush White House, the executive order violates applicable
provisions of federal law by extending the secrecy of presidential documents
from past administrations. The order applies to records of presidents from
Ronald Reagan forward, which are governed by the Presidential Records Act, a
1978 law passed in the wake of Watergate to assure public control over and
access to presidential documents. The executive order attempts to give both the
sitting president and former presidents the power to prevent the National
Archives from releasing documents that the act requires to be made
Fifteen years ago, the Reagan Justice Department issued a
virtually identical order that required the Archivist to abide by assertions of
executive privilege by former President Nixon. Public Citizen sued in federal
court to block implementation of that order and prevailed.
lawsuit, Public Citizen v. Burke, required nearly two years of effort but
ultimately resulted in a 1988 opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C.
Circuit repudiating the Reagan administration's position. The opinion,
written by Judge Laurence Silberman, a conservative appointed by President
Reagan, held that the Archivist of the United States, who runs the National
Archives, could not be required to defer to a former president's claim of
"Public Citizen fought this very same battle before
and won," said Scott Nelson, attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation
Group. "We're fully prepared to fight it and win it again."
the Presidential Records Act, an outgoing president can impose a 12-year
restriction on public access to documents that involve confidential
communications between the president and his advisers - communications subject
to the so-called "executive privilege." After the 12 years are up, the law
provides that such documents be made available to members of the public upon
The 12-year restriction on Reagan presidential documents
housed at the National Archives' Reagan Presidential Library expired earlier
this year. When the Archives informed the White House that it intended to
release the documents to the public, the White House first directed the Archives
to wait eight months while it studied the issue, and then promulgated the new
Under the new executive order, both a former president
and the incumbent president have an unlimited amount of time to review any
documents the Archives proposes to release after the 12-year restriction period
expires. If the former president objects to the release of any materials,
the executive order provides that the incumbent president will concur with the
former president's wishes unless there are "compelling circumstances" that favor
disclosure. But even if the sitting president finds that there are
"compelling circumstances" and disagrees with the former president, the order
requires that the Archives abide by the direction of the former president and
keep the documents secret.
At the same time, the order provides that even
if the former president agrees that materials can be released, they will be kept
secret if the sitting president wants them to remain under wraps. Before
the Archivist can release any documents, both the former president and the
incumbent must agree.
The order turns the Presidential Records Act's
presumption that materials are to be released after 12 years on its head.
By requiring the Archivist to bow to the direction of a former president that
documents not be released, the order also violates the fundamental principle
that executive branch officials must follow the law, not the personal wishes of
According to Nelson, assertions by the Bush White
House that the new executive order is necessary for reasons of national security
are only attempts to confuse the issue. Other provisions of the
Presidential Records Act already forbid the release of any classified
information that would damage national security. This order applies to
documents that are subject to release under the Act because they do not involve
national security. The order would permit a former president (or the incumbent)
to bar disclosure of communications with presidential advisers simply because
their release would be embarrassing.
"This order has nothing to do with
national security," Nelson said. "It reflects the current administration's
desire to have secrecy merely to avoid embarrassment - and that desire is
contrary to federal law. We are confident that this order can't withstand
A copy of Public Citizen's letter is available at http://www.citizen.org/litigation/briefs/FOIAGovtSec/articles.cfm?ID=6418
Insecurity: Corporations Receive Special Treatment to Prop Up Dangerous Nuclear
Power Without Safety Commitments
WASHINGTON, DC.- Public Citizen today
joins a broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups denouncing energy
policies that subsidize nuclear power without securing any commitments from the
industry to improve plant security. The inability to secure nuclear power from
terrorist attacks places millions of Americans needlessly at risk. Public
Citizen calls for an end to the billions of dollars in subsidies that prop up
the industry and demands immediate regulatory improvements to protect Americans
from the threat of nuclear catastrophe.
"Federal regulators, consumer
groups and even the nuclear power industry acknowledge that nuclear power plants
are not prepared to withstand a terrorist attack from land, sea or air," said
Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. "In a decade of testing for mock
land-based assaults, the security provided by the nuclear industry failed to
stop intruders 47 percent of the time."
Recent efforts to beef up
security at the nation's 103 operating nuclear reactors, including ringing
plants with National Guard troops, cannot guarantee the reactors' safety because
nuclear reactors are not designed to withstand the impact of a commercial
jetliner. Public Citizen urges the establishment of a more comprehensive
regulatory framework to force the nuclear power industry to figure out how to
deal with a terrorist assault. Public Citizen also calls for an immediate
moratorium on the approval of new power plants until the security of Americans
can be guaranteed.
"The risk of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe at an
American nuclear power plant is real," said Tyson Slocum, research director for
Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "At a minimum,
the regulations covering safety at nuclear power plants must be upgraded in
response to Sept. 11. But instead of asking the nuclear power industry to
improve safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has continued relicensing
procedures for reactors without holding these plants to higher standards in
exchange for allowing them to operate for another 20 years."
too, has sacrificed public safety by continuing to promote subsidies for the
nuclear power industry. Reauthorization of the Price Anderson Act - legislation
that forces taxpayers to cover most of the estimated costs of a nuclear power
catastrophe and allows the nuclear power industry to save an estimated
billion annually on insurance premiums - appears certain.
U.S. House of Representatives passed its energy bill in August, the Senate has
been embroiled in a procedural battle to rush a vote on the House legislation.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)gaining concessions to force a vote soon by attaching
the entire House bill as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill. The
House legislation provides billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways to the
nuclear industry, including millions of dollars to recruit students to work in
the commercial nuclear industry and millions more to subsidize every kilowatt
hour of electricity generated by nuclear power.
"Billions of dollars of
taxpayer subsidies to the nuclear power industry won't buy Americans the safety
and security they demand," Slocum said.
Officials Urged to Reject
U.S. Company's Food Irradiation
Consumer Group Expresses Concerns Over Safety of and Need for
Radiation "Treatment" for Exotic Fruits
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