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Federal Judge Rules Cheney Must Follow Law

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued an injunction this weekend ordering Dick Cheney to keep all his official records until the end of the Bush administration, at which point he must turn them over to the National Archives.

The preliminary injunction stems from a lawsuit filed by the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, along with a group of historians and historical organizations, demanding that Cheney follow the Presidential Records Act.

CREW et al. haven’t cited any specific violations of the records law that prompted the suit. But the judge’s ruling (pdf) makes the lawsuit look shrewd: Cheney has, as the plaintiffs feared, concocted a legal argument limiting the scope of the Presidential Records Act.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly defined the post-Watergate interpretation of the law as requiring the vice president to make all of his work-related records, including emails, publicly available as rapidly as possible.

But Cheney’s deputy chief of staff, Claire M. O’Donnell, argued that the law only makes Cheney keep records that specifically deal with business the president assigned him and work he did as head of the Senate. This would exclude several controversial activities Cheney took on himself like his work the National Security Council’s warrantless wiretapping program.

What is the justification from Cheney’s office for limiting the scope of the law? Judge Kollar-Kotelly says there isn’t any. She calls the argument “bereft of legal analysis” and says it “fails to explain why a narrower definition of the PRA’s statutory language would be appropriate.”

Kollar-Kotelly notes that she hopes some legal reasoning by the vice-president’s office will be provided before her final ruling.

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