Obama to release Reagan records kept secret by Bush


Muriel Kane
Published: Friday April 10, 2009

The Obama administration is about to release 244,966 pages of documents from the Reagan White House that the Bush administration had held back for years during a review of whether to assert executive privilege.

Historians and advocates of government transparency have complained strongly about the Bush backlog, which Obama ended with an executive order signed the day after he took office that limits the review period to 30 days in most cases.

In a letter obtained by Politico, White House Counsel Gregory Craig informed the National Archives and Records Administration that President Obama "has not asserting executive privilege over any of this material," opening the way for their release.

According to a press release from the National Archives, "On Monday, April 13, 2009, the Ronald Reagan library will open 244,966 pages of records processed in response to hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. These records include the Presidential Briefing Papers collection, Office of Speechwriting research material and approximately 13,000 pages of declassified records on numerous foreign policy topics."

Another 797 pages of documents from President George H.W. Bush's administration on the topic of Saudi Arabia will be released at the same time. 

President George W. Bush had held these documents back under an executive order signed on November 1, 2001. According to the New York Times, "The order, drafted by Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, gives either an incumbent president or a former president the right to withhold the former president's papers from the public. It was issued to block the release of 68,000 pages of records from the Reagan administration, which contain confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers, including Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, who was Reagan's vice president."

Former White House Counsel John Dean pointed out at the time, "The Executive Order suggests that President Bush not only does not want Americans to know what he is doing, but he also does not want to worry that historians and others will someday find out. Certainly that is the implicit message in his new effort to preclude public access to Presidential papers — his, and those of all Presidents since the Reagan-Bush administration."

It is not yet known what documents are to be released. However, the fact that both the elder Bush and a representative of Ronald Reagan approved the releases suggests that papers relating to the most controversial issues of their administrations, such as Iran-Contra, will not be included.