The disposition of presidential records was injected into the Democratic presidential campaign when Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was accused in a televised debate of contributing to the delay of the release of her papers as First Lady from the National Archives.
Debate moderator Tim Russert asked Senator Clinton about expediting the release of documents relating to her conversations while First Lady with former President Bill Clinton. In a 2002 letter to the Archivist of the United States, former President Clinton asked the National Archives not to release such records until 2012, the full period allowed under the Presidential Records Act. Senator Clinton responded, “Well that’s not my decision to make. And I don’t believe that any president or first lady ever has. But certainly we will move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.”
In a court filing in response to a lawsuit seeking the release of Senator Clinton’s First Lady papers, Emily Robison, the Deputy Director of the Clinton Presidential Library said there are currently 287 pending FOIA requests, which involve the processing of approximately 10,500,000 pages of Presidential records. She estimated that it would take through January 2008 to complete processing of the 10,000 pages of records representing the first portion of the First Lady’s records. The Clinton Presidential Library has only six archivists on staff for processing all of its pending FOIA requests for textual and electronic records.
This presidential debate only added to what has become a media firestorm over the issue of whether the Clintons are obstructing the release of her records or whether the Bush administration’s Executive Order 13233 is responsible for delays in the processing and release of documents at not just the Clinton library, but the Reagan and Bush libraries as well. An article in the Washington Post blamed both the Clintons, and the Bush administration for the delays. And, a lengthy piece in Newsweek sharply criticized the Clinton’s alleging that they have been less than forthcoming in the release of their papers.
Unfortunately, the media coverage has ignored the fact that consideration of legislation (H.R. 1255) in the Senate to overturn Executive Order 13233 continues to be blocked by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) at the behest of the White House who has threatened to veto the bill.