Federal judge directs Cheney to preserve disputed records

[JURIST] A US federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF] requiring US Vice President Dick Cheney [official website; JURIST news archive] to preserve all his official records pending resolution of a lawsuit alleging that his office has failed to maintain records as required by law. In an opinion [PDF text] released Saturday, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly [official profile] of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] wrote that it was "unmistakably clear that Defendants apply a narrowing interpretation" to the Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA) [materials], which governs the official records of presidents and vice presidents. Calling the pleadings filed by Cheney's office "bereft of any legal analysis," Kollary-Kotelly found that

the public interest is undoubtedly served by ensuring that all documentary material potentially encompassed by the PRA's statutory language is actually preserved as Congress saw fit in enacting the PRA. ... These public interests are of the utmost significance and, as discussed above, are not and will not be fully protected if Defendants' narrowed interpretation of the PRA's statutory language is incorrect as a matter of law. ... The American public, however, has a right to the preservation of all records encompassed by the PRA’s statutory language. As such, until the Court is able to determine whether Defendants’ narrowed interpretation is legally supported, the public interest favors the issuance of a preliminary injunction.
Cheney's office argued that the PRA encompasses only those vice presidential records that pertain to executive functions "specially assigned" by the president or to the vice president's functions as president of the Senate. The lawsuit was brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) [advocacy website], which praised the ruling [press release] for "reject[ing] the vice president's efforts to cloak his actions in a mantle of secrecy by declaring himself a fourth branch of government." Kollar-Kotelly has set an expedited schedule to allow "full resolution" of the issues before Cheney leaves office in January. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.

This July, in another lawsuit filed by CREW, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected a Bush administration appeal [JURIST report] of a 2007 order requiring that White House visitor logs be released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In June, CREW appealed a decision [JURIST report] by a federal judge that the White House Office of Administration is not subject to the FOIA, even though it had complied with public records requests in the past. Cheney has previously asserted that his office is not part of the executive branch [Los Angeles Times report] of government. Last year, the US House Oversight Committee released documents showing that Cheney had exempted his office [JURIST report] from an executive order requiring executive branch officials to submit annual reports to ensure that classified information is properly secured. In 2006, the US Justice Department appealed a federal judge's decision ordering the Secret Service to release visitor logs [JURIST reports] for Cheney's office and personal residence.

 

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