Clinton Lawyer: Obama’s Order Designed To Pry Loose Key Bush Docs

Already, a consensus of experts has formed to tell TPMmuckraker and others that President Obama’s executive order on presidential records, issued Wednesday, could impact efforts to pry loose key documents from the Bush White House.

And the man who served as President Clinton’s lead attorney for executive privilege issues yesterday went further, suggesting that that was exactly Obama’s goal.

Neil Eggleston, a White House counsel under Clinton, told TPMmuckraker that in his view, the Obama White House issued the order with specific ongoing cases in mind — that is, with the goal of bolstering those efforts to obtain Bush’s records.

Congress and good-government groups are currently fighting to get access to key Bush White House documents that might shed light on a range of subjects, from the level of White House involvement in the US Attorney firings, to the Valerie Plame leak probe, to the decision to invade Iraq. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” said Eggleston.

At its heart, said Eggleston, Obama’s order is about “who gets to assert executive privilege.” It says that former presidents can claim such privilege, but they have no automatic ability to prevent the release of their records if the current administration deems it to be in the national interest. That echoes the view of other experts who have examined the order, including the conservative legal scholar Doug Kmiec, who spoke to TPMmuckraker yesterday.

In a sense, said Eggleston, it’s a directive to the National Archivist. “It says: ‘Archivist — if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.'”

Eggleston, now a partner at Debevoise and Plimpton’s Washington office, cautioned that if a decision were made to release certain Bush records, and the former president chose to go to court to stop it, it’s not absolutely certain that he would lose — since no executive order can alter the constitution’s executive privilege guarantee. But he said that the order would at the very least be likely to sway a court towards openness.

So if we do eventually learn the full story of the Bushies’ involvement in the US Attorney firings, and get access to information about their record on a range of other issues, it looks like we may have the new president to thank.

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