Encourage Congress to re-open government
White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of secret tapes from the Oval Office during his Watergate hearings testimony, and doomed Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Yes, indeed, there was a cover-up of the Watergate break-in. Yes, indeed, the president was a participant, the tapes showed.
But not until a year later, when the Supreme Court finally ordered Mr. Nixon to release the tapes to the special prosecutor, did the nation know the full truth.
Following the scandal, Congress enacted the Presidential Records Act that said the public, not the president, owns presidential records.
A directive from President Bush in 2001 gave the president authority to keep his records from public view indefinitely.
That directive was one piece of a web of secrecy that reaches throughout this administration.
Congress this week began the process of rolling back that presidential directive and other barriers thrown up to keep the public from knowing what government is doing and has done. Parallel bills are in the House and Senate, with support from Democrats and Republicans.
John Dean, President Nixon’s White House counsel, testified that he told his boss that Watergate was a cancer on the presidency.
His was correct; and secrecy — from the White House to the courthouse — is also a cancer that’s growing on democracy.
Even with a threat of a presidential veto, Congress is doing the nation a service in trying to regain those parts of public access that disappeared during the Bush years.