Dick Cheney may now be the former vice president, but a court ruling handed down yesterday, his last full day in office, could make it less likely that we'll ever get a full account of his role in crucial Bush administration decisions.
The Washington Post reports that a federal judge decided that a pledge from Cheney's office that it will turn over key records to the National Archives, as required by law, is good enough. A coalition of historical and nonprofit groups, alleging that Cheney planned to discard or destroy the records, had sued to require that they be preserved.
Claire O'Donnell, a Cheney aide who handles record-keeping, had said in a sworn deposition that the material would be preserved, and Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said she expects that the VP's office "will, in good faith, comply with" that pledge.
But the plaintiffs are concerned that it won't. Stanley Kutler, an emeritus professor of history and law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and the author of two books on Watergate, told the Post he's afraid that "when the Archives goes to open Cheney's papers, they are going to find empty boxes."
Kutler added that Cheney "spent most of his time making sure he left no footprints. Why did he fight this order so much if he did not have the intent to leave with these papers? I'm guessing that a lot of it will not be there."
Still, on most of the more far-reaching issues in play, the government lost. The court rejected the government's arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and that no court could review the administration's compliance with the Presidential Records Act, under which the case was brought. It also rejected the strange-sounding claim that that act gave the vice president complete discretion to decide how to comply with it. Judge Kollar-Kotelly rapped DOJ for making "constantly shifting arguments."
But on the immediate -- and crucial -- question of the how much of the ex-veep's records are made available to those writing the history of the Bush administration, we may have to trust Dick Cheney. And that hasn't tended to work out too well in the past.