WASHINGTON – A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Saturday ordering Vice President Cheney and the National Archives to preserve all of his official records.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s order came in response to a lawsuit filed this month by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group, joined by several historians and open-government advocates, warned that Cheney might destroy or withhold important documents as the Bush administration winds down if he interprets the Presidential Records Act of 1978 as applying to only some of his official papers.
That, in turn, could deprive historians and the general public of valuable records that illustrate Cheney’s role. He is widely considered to be the most influential vice president in history – in forming U.S. policy over the last 7 1/2 years, they argued.
Kollar-Kotelly, who was appointed by President Clinton, issued her order despite assertions from Cheney’s representatives that he was preserving all the records he is required to under the 1978 law.
A spokesman for Cheney said the vice president’s office will not comment on pending litigation.
Open-government advocates are nervous about the fate of Cheney’s papers, because the vice president has long resisted revealing any aspect of the inner workings of his office. He has, for example, 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. Cheney also has argued that he is not part of the executive branch.
In court filings, Claire M. O’Donnell, Cheney’s deputy chief of staff, offered a narrower definition of vice presidential records than the one in the law.
But that definition excludes many records, including those relating to Cheney’s work on the National Security Council and those where he acted without instructions from the president, such as his efforts to win reauthorization of a top-secret warrantless wiretapping program, the plaintiffs argued.