The Archives and Presidential Records
Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Regarding "GOP issuing 'Clinton library cards' " (Nation, Wednesday), keep in mind that for 200 years, a president's White House files were considered personal property. Upon leaving office, he could screen them, keep what he wanted and burn the rest. Except for Richard Nixon, all the presidents from Herbert Hoover through Jimmy Carter donated portions of their files, with varying restrictions, to libraries administered by the National Archives.
The late Clement Vose, a professor of government at Wesleyan University, noted of the donor-restricted presidential libraries that they often set aside records dealing with contentious matters to allow "the passage of time to dim controversy" related to presidents.
Government ownership of a president's official records is a relatively new concept. So, too, is the notion that the public can request access to them soon after the president leaves office. Under laws passed in the 1970s, Mr. Nixon's records are government property, as are those of presidents holding office after 1981.
If the National Archives' mission were easy, The Washington Times would not have written in 1994 of apparent disputes about "differing philosophies over access to government records" at the agency" ("Turmoil continues at Archives," Page 1, May 13, 1994). …