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Watchdog, Historians Declare Preemptive War on Cheney

As The Washington Post previewed this morning, Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics, a watchdog group, along with two historians and three historical organizations, filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court this afternoon against the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and Allen Weinstein, head of the National Archives.

The lawsuit doesn’t concern anything Cheney has actually done– like, for example, not produce White House emails. Instead, CREW and the others are trying to make sure that Cheney doesn’t use his claim that his office is not part of the executive branch as a reason to withhold his VP records.

Back in 2001, President George W. Bush released an executive order that lays out his views on executive power. Compared with the rest of the document, the section on vice presidential records seems innocuous: “the presidential records act applies to the executive records of the vice president.”

The 1978 Presidential Records Act makes clear that the president and vice president must give the National Archives all policy-related documents when their administration ends.

The problem, say the lawsuit’s plantiffs, is that Cheney has already spurned the National Archives by claiming he’s not part of the executive branch. And Bush’s executive order refers to the vice president’s “executive records.”

So what if Cheney claims that administration-defining documents — the lawsuit specifically cites notes and records on Iraq and energy policy — are actually “legislative records”?

Filing a lawsuit for Cheney’s complete records while he is still the sitting VP is a unique strategy.

Then again, according to the White House, the “vice presidency is a unique office, neither part of the executive branch nor the legislative branch, but it is attached by the Constitution to the latter.”

Judicial intervention could both preserve Cheney’s records and finally do away with his claim to be floating somewhere above the Constitution.

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