Federal Court Rules for VP Cheney in Records Preservation Case

On January 19, Federal District Court Judge Colleen Kollar Kotelly accepted Vice President Cheney’s claim that he was complying with the Presidential Records Act (“PRA”) thus denying efforts by historians and archivists to ensure the full body of Cheney’s records would be preserved. The PRA requires presidential and vice presidential records to be turned over to the National Archives at the end of an administration.

Last year, Citizen’s for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed suit in federal court to determine whether Vice President Cheney’s executive branch records were being properly preserved. Joining CREW as plaintiffs were the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and historians Stanley I. Kutler and Martin J. Sherwin.

Over the past few years, the Vice President Cheney and the Office of the Vice President have claimed at different times and in different venues that they were not part of the executive branch, and it is such claims that precipitated the lawsuit. For example, on June 26, 2008, VP Chief of Staff David Addington testified before House Judiciary Committee that the vice president belongs to neither branch but is attached by the Constitution to Congress.

The petitioners argued that without judicial intervention on January 20, 2009, a vast majority of Vice President Cheney’s records would not be transferred to NARA, as required by Presidential Records Act (PRA), for eventual release to the public, but instead would remain under the vice president’s custody and control.

The Court granted discovery in the case to allow clarification regarding whether the defendants were, in fact, complying with the Presidential Records Act. CREW attorneys deposed the Claire M. O’Donnell, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice President, who testified that the Vice President and the Office of the Vice President were fully complying with their obligations under the Presidential Records Act.

The judge ultimately ruled that, “Plaintiffs were unable to rebut this representation through their discovery. The Court therefore has no basis on which to award Plaintiffs relief against the Vice President and the Office of the Vice President.”