From the very start, George W. Bush made it clear that his would
be a leak-tight White House. In the past year, he has succeeded to a
remarkable degree, and is even carrying that promise far beyond his
relationship with the media.
In an attempt to reinforce the powers of the executive branch,
the Bush administration has denied Congress access to information on
the vice president's energy task force, restricted the handling of
presidential records, and curtailed government responses to requests
made under the Freedom of Information Act.
The war on terrorism has, understandably, added to the aura of
discreetness, with Vice President Cheney often working in
undisclosed locations, for example.
Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, sees this pattern of
secrecy as a return to the imperial presidencies of Nixon, Johnson,
and Kennedy. Others argue it differs little from the self-
preservation tactics of any Oval Office occupant. Yet many in
Washington - including both Democrats and Republicans - are
concerned about the shift and are fighting back.
Their weapons are the courts, political pressure, and even the
power of the subpoena, which Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle has raised as a threat to get Homeland Security chief Tom
Ridge to testify publicly before Congress.
The Bush clam-up "creates a reaction against the executive.... It
creates distrust, animus," says Mr. Dallek, a biographer of
President Lyndon Johnson who describes this administration as having
an "authoritarian bent."
Documents to be released
Resistance from lawmakers and special-interest groups has begun
to show some success. Today, the Department of Energy is expected to
release thousands of pages of documents related to the energy task
force as a result of a court order.
And last week, the Defense secretary announced that military
tribunals for suspected terrorists, originally envisioned as secret
under an executive order from the president, will actually be public
- except for portions related to national security. This, like some
other aspects of the newly announced tribunal procedures, appears to
be a response to criticism of the president's order when it first
came out last year.
The president's emphasis on confidentiality predates the war on
terror, though. In his father's administration, the younger Bush
took a special interest in helping with leak control. He had his own
papers from his time as Texas governor archived in his father's
presidential library, so that they would not be managed by the state
of Texas - or subject to the state's open-records laws.
His disciplined, corporate style of management encourages debate
behind closed doors, but once a decision is made, Bush brooks no
disloyalty or dissent in public.
Mike Parker, a former Republican congressman from Mississippi,
learned this the hard way. …