Cheney claims power to decide his own case

John Byrne

I am the law.

That's the message Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to send in a little-noticed court filing last week, in which his lawyers asserted that the vice president alone has the authority to determine which records are turned over to the National Archives after he leaves office. But the law exempts "personal and partisan" records, which Cheney's lawyers said he will be the sole decider upon.

"The vice president alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records, how his records will be created, maintained, managed and disposed, and are all actions that are committed to his discretion by law," according to a filing by Cheney's office with the court hearing the case Dec. 8, noted by the AP's Pamela Hess.

"National Archives officials have said records of Cheney's dealings with the Republican National Committee would not require preservation under the law," Hess notes. "As of November, it had not made a final determination on the status of Cheney's records produced when he acts as president of the Senate, which he says are exempt."

Steven Aftergood, government secrecy expert and editor of the blog, Secrecy News, told Hess the law is unclear as to who is supposed to determine what records can be kept as private property.

"Decisions that are made in the next couple of weeks may prove irrevocable," he said. "If records are held from the archivist now they may never be recovered."

Cheney was ordered to preserve all records in September while the case progressed.

Citizens for Ethics has tangled with the White House for years. Last year, they took issue with the White House's announcement that they'd lost more than five million emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005.

"It’s clear that the White House has been willfully violating the law, the only question now is to what extent?" CREW executive director Melanie Sloan wrote. "The ever changing excuses offered by the administration – that they didn’t want to violate the Hatch Act, that staff wasn’t clear on the law – are patently ridiculous. Very convenient that embarrassing – and potentially incriminating – emails have gone missing. It’s the Nixon White House all over again."