As David notes below, in his remarks today, President Obama hinted at an issue a lot of us having been thinking about: that is, the fact that as the new President, Obama now speaks for President Bush in terms of a lot of things that President Bush was trying to keep secret during his tenure in office.
I spoke to a lawyer friend yesterday. And there seemed to be a little unclarity on which of these privileges are now in Obama’s hands as president and which President Bush can still independently assert in his own capacity. But it reminded me of something that happened not long after the last presidential handover in 2001.
This was during the investigation of the Marc Rich pardon. And the Bush White House turned out to be uncharacteristically generous releasing transcripts of a phone conversation between Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in which the Rich pardon had come up. If you think about, to think that the Bush White House ever would have released the transcript of one of President Bush’s private conversations with a foreign leader in order to help out with a congressional investigation is laughable on its face.
It was never completely clear to me whether the Bush folks completely blindsided the Clinton folks or just muscled them by putting them in an impossible position. (I remember one reporting call at the time that gave me the impression that the Clinton folks felt cordially screwed.) But it’s an example that ex-Presidents become extremely vulnerable to their successors.
Of course, every president has a successor, including this one. So that tends to keep them all maintaining the privileges of the office.