Bush White House Emails Won’t Be Public For Years


The Obama administration and two good government groups yesterday announced, with some fanfare, that they’d come to an agreement on those missing emails from the Bush White House.

But if you think the news means we’re finally about to get the full story on the Valerie Plame leak, or the deliberations that took us to war in Iraq, think again. Many of the roughly 22 million emails secured through the deal likely won’t be made public until 2022. And even the ones that can be released sooner won’t see the light of day for around three years.The emails will be turned over to the National Archives, where they’ll be treated, initially at least, as presidential records, Anne Weismann, a senior lawyer for CREW, one of the groups that had sued over the emails, explained to TPMmuckraker. That means that, under the Presidential Records Act, they won’t be made public for five years. But President Bush has broad latitude to direct the Archives to keep them secret for an additional seven years — indeed, he may already have done so. Given the former president’s record on issues of openness and transparency, it’s a good bet he’ll opt to do so. The administration or the Archives could challenge that directive, arguing that Bush’s reasons aren’t spelled out in the law. But, said Weismann, it’s very unlikely that either would do so.

However, some of the emails — those from an agency like the Council on Environmental Quality, rather than from a political adviser — may soon be designated federal, rather than presidential, records. That would mean, said Weismann, that they’d likely be made public in about three years, after the National Archives has processed them and prepared them for release.

None of this is to suggest the settlement was any kind of Pyrrhic victory for the plaintiffs. The important point is that the emails — at least those that there’s enough money to recover — will be made public, helping to shape our understanding of key events in our history.

It just means that we’re unlikely to see a Karl Rove frogwalk any time soon.

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