Obama releases Reagan records
Josh Gerstein Josh Gerstein – 58 mins ago
President Barack Obama is ordering the release of nearly a quarter of a million pages of records from the Reagan White House that were kept from the public during a lengthy review by President George W. Bush.
The Reagan documents – which include presidential briefing papers, speechwriting research materials and declassified foreign policy records — are expected to be released Monday.
Officials said the Obama administration’s quick verdict on the documents was prompted by an executive order Obama signed in January that gives the incumbent president 30 days to make such a decision, unless he sets a longer period. By contrast, Bush’s executive order on presidential records set no time limit on the White House’s review.
“With regard to the Reagan Administration records, I am writing to inform you that the President has not asserted executive privilege over any of this material,” White House Counsel Greg Craig wrote in a letter Thursday obtained by POLITICO.
“Pursuant to the President’s Executive Order, NARA may release these records — opening close to 250,000 pages of history,” Craig wrote to the director of the presidential libraries unit at the National Archives and Records Administration, Nancy Kegan Smith.
A smaller batch of 797 pages from President George H.W. Bush’s presidential library on the topic of Saudi Arabia also has been cleared for release Monday.
In recent years, historians and open-government groups complained bitterly that the review process President George W. Bush instituted was causing a backlog that was stalling the release of tens of thousands of pages of presidential records. “The cynical view is that the process is deliberately inefficient,” Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive testified at a Congressional hearing on the issue in 2007.
One advocate for greater disclosure hailed Obama's move.
"This is a great development," Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group said. "It's very encouraging that the Bush order and the burden it imposes on the White House to do a page-by-page review apparently won't be taking place under this administration. We won't have this additional layer of delays."
However, there were indications that the most contested presidential records from the Reagan era might not be among the roughly 250,000 pages cleared for release by Obama.
Nelson’s group fought a court battle for about a dozen documents, including memoranda about possible pardons for Iran-Contra figures such as Oliver North and John Poindexter. Representatives of former President Reagan objected to the release of those documents and were backed up in almost all instances by lawyers for President Bush. A federal judge ruled that the requesters’ had no legal grounds to overcome the incumbent president’s assertion of privilege.
Craig’s letter says Reagan’s representative approved of the release of the documents the White House cleared on Thursday, making it unlikely the files contain the same records that led to the court battle. A representative for the elder Bush also consented to have his documents released, officials said.
Obama’s openness to releasing historical presidential records could put him at odds with former presidents or their families who seek to block such a release. But officials said there was no disagreement about the records to be released next week.