White House Seeks to Withhold Records


The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; 6:50 PM

WASHINGTON -- A House committee chairman led the criticism Wednesday about the Bush administration's claim that a White House office involved in a dispute over missing e-mails can keep records from the public.

The Justice Department detailed the argument in a lawsuit seeking to force the White House Office of Administration to say what it knows about the disappearance of an undisclosed amount of messages.

The White House has provided few details about the e-mail problem. It came to light more than a year and a half ago and resurfaced amid the uproar over the firing of U.S. attorneys.

For Rep. Henry Waxman, the fight is just one of many between his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the White House over access to documents since Democrats took control of Congress in January.

"The White House obsession with secrecy is absurd," said Waxman, D-Calif. "The White House is inventing new legalisms to thwart oversight and public accountability."

In response, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said, "If there is an obsession here, it seems to be one with endless political fishing expeditions."

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the White House office has processed hundreds of information requests on behalf of the media, advocacy groups and the public over the past decade. The White House Web site lists the office among the "entities subject to" the law.

But on Tuesday, in a bid to kill a suit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Justice Department contended the office has no substantial authority independent of President Bush and is not subject to the law.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the administration's position is in keeping with its handling over freedom of information issues.

"When they don't want to comply with the law, they just shamelessly argue they are not subject to the law," she said.

In its filing in U.S. District Court, the Justice Department acknowledged that the White House office "currently has regulations implementing" the Freedom of Information Act and has not previously taken the position that it is exempt from the disclosure requirements.

The department cited a court ruling in the 1990s that the National Security Council was not subject to the disclosure law.