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Lawsuit to Ask That Cheney's Papers Be Made Public
The group wants the Archives to abandon its interpretation that legislative records of vice presidents are personal property and not covered by the presidential records law.
Gary M. Stern, general counsel for the Archives, said he has shared the group's concerns with the White House.
"We have no reason to think that anything will happen differently with this vice president than has happened with any other," Stern said, "which is, the records that they create in their White House office and with their White House staff will come to us as vice presidential records under PRA."
Former vice president Al Gore's papers, for instance, are maintained at an Archives facility in Washington, he said.
Martin J. Sherwin, a history professor at George Mason University and a plaintiff in the case, said it will be impossible to measure Cheney's influence without access to the records.
"It horrifies me as a citizen to think our government can operate in total secrecy during the administration and then, after the administration, remain in secrecy," he said.
For years, Cheney has resisted revealing any aspect of the inner workings of his office; he has shielded information such as the names of industry executives who advised his energy task force, his travel costs and details, and Secret Service logs of visitors to his office and residence. Since 2003, his office has refused to comply with an executive order requiring entities in the executive branch to file annual reports on their possession of classified data, at one point blocking an inspection by officials from the Archives.
The Presidential Records Act, inspired by Nixon's attempt to withhold from Congress and perhaps destroy some of his records and tapes after Watergate, first applied to the Reagan administration. For the first time, it provided for the preservation of vice presidential records.
The law established a process for providing public access to presidential and vice presidential records through the Freedom of Information Act, beginning five years after an administration ends. Presidents and vice presidents can restrict access to certain records, notably those involving national security, for up to 12 years.
Archives officials say they have met with White House staff members to discuss the records transfer. The agency has leased a 60,000-square-foot building near Dallas to archive records temporarily until Bush's presidential library is completed at Southern Methodist University.
"There have been no red flags that have gone up for us about records-management procedures and getting ready to turn records over to us," said Susan Cooper, an Archives spokeswoman.
Joel K. Goldstein, a constitutional scholar and expert on the vice presidency at the St. Louis University School of Law, said Cheney faces a tough sell if he argues that many of his documents are not "executive records."
"When a vice president is sitting there in the West Wing and participating at the highest levels in the work of the executive branch, and when the main reason somebody like Vice President Cheney wants to be vice president is to help drive the car, it's a little bit anomalous to say you're not part of the executive branch," said Goldstein, who is not part of the lawsuit.
Staff writer Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.