One of the Washington Post’s Deep Throat duo is warning that a President Hillary Clinton could be as hostile to transparency as the current administrationat least on matters touching her own White House experience and performance. Jon Wiener, blogging today for The Nation, reports that Clinton biographer and All the President’s Men co-author Carl Bernstein told an audience at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda a few days ago that "Hillary’s fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life." Adds Wiener:
At lunch before his talk, Bernstein emphasized Hillary’s continuing
obsession with secrecy. He told me he did not think Hillary would
repeal Bush’s Executive Order on Classification, the most restrictive
ever, which has outraged advocates of freedom of information in
Congress and the media. Bush’s order gives the president or any former
president the right to withhold the former president’s papers from the
public. . . . But the Bush executive order on classification would have a special
appeal for Hillary as president, Bernstein said. "Do you think she
wants to open the papers of Bill’s presidency, which include all the
material on her role?" Asked about the legislation introduced by
Congressman Henry Waxman to repeal Bush’s classification order,
Bernstein was skeptical it would pass in the next congress: "Do you
think Democrats in Congress would demand repeal in the face of
This speculation seems supported by Michael Isikoff’s report in the October 29 Newsweek that a more recent biographer hit the wall in trying to do research at the new William J. Clinton Presidential Library, dubbed by some "Little Rock’s Fort Knox." Author Sally Bedell Smith’s purpose was to document the First Lady’s actual influence on policy, says Isikoff, but she discovered that was a story the library would not help her with.
An archivist explained to Smith that the release of materials was
tightly controlled by the former president’s longtime confidant Bruce
Lindsey. Could she look at memos detailing the advice Hillary gave Bill
during debates over welfare reform? Smith asked. No, the archivist
said, those memos were "closed" to the public because they dealt with
"policy" matters. What about any records that show what advice Bill
gave his wife about her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign? Those, too, were
closed, the archivist said, because they dealt with "political"
matters. "He essentially told me I had no chance of getting anything,"
says Smith, whose book, For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary
Clinton, the White House Years, hits the bookstores this week.
The Isikoff piece notes that while Bill Clinton has testily denied responsibility for his library’s barriers and instead has blamed the current White House, documents obtained by Newsweek from the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act show Clinton’s private instructions to Archives officials in 2002 to "consider" withholding a certain list of categories of records:
"confidential communications" involving foreign-policy issues,
"sensitive policy, personal or political" matters and "legal issues and
advice" including all matters involving investigations by Congress, the
Justice Department and independent counsels (a category that would
cover, among other matters, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and the pardons
of Marc Rich and others). Another restriction: "communications directly
between the President and First Lady, and their families, unless
routine in nature."
Like so many anti-disclosure policies, those giving former chief executives control over biographers’, historians’ or anyone else’s access to their official papers is nothing new to California. A compliant legislature here amended the Public Records Act during the Deukmejian administration, giving outgoing governors full veto power over public access to their records lodged in the State Archives, for 50 years or the governor’s lifetime, whichever lasts longer (Government Code Section 6268).
Meanwhile the presidential campaign has so far found candidates giving little more than minimal lip service to reversing the Bush era of secrecyonly Barack Obama has given it any kind of emphasis. We are apparently to assume that Anyone But Bush has got to be more open. But there are signs that some are becoming nervous about how little most candidates seem to care about reassuring the public of their transparency commitment. Having deplored the Bush/Cheney expansion of presidential powers and unaccountability, are they nonetheless content to inherit them for their own purposes?