Vice President Cheney claimed yesterday that his office is not part of the Bush administration and therefore doesn't have to send to the National Archives any documents that he has.
Aside from the laughable proposition that the Vice President is not part of the administration, this has a serious-- and a dark side.
Presidential administrations by law must keep documentation on file, both for the benefit of future administrations and for the review of historians.
These documents are kept in the National Archives and housed in Presidential Libraries.
Of course some are classified, and remain so until some time in the future when either a specific declassification date is passed or they are deemed as no longer required to be classified by the administration then in charge.
Even where documents may prove to be embarrassing or possibly the grounds for criminal liability, procedures have been devised that will still make them the basis for future historical knowlege. For example, Lyndon Johnson had a time capsule sealed which will be opened in 2039-- a date by which anyone who might have been associated with his crimes in Vietnam will almost certainly be long since gone from this world.
But what we've seen from the Bush administration is a whole new direction. First, were the lost emails. Thousands, maybe even millions of government emails, required by law to be stored (and recently requested by Congress as part of the investigation of the U.S. attorney firings) have been deleted.
I think the investigation probably has only uncovered earlier than the White House expected one of the pieces of one of the greatest coverups of our time, which we will see much more of in the near future, especially if it looks like a President who may not be interested in protecting Bush administration secrets wins the White House.
Another piece fell into place yesterday with Cheney's blatant claim. Believe me, it's not just that he wants to keep the attendees at his energy summit secret. It goes much deeper than that, especially with the role that the Vice President's office has played in developing the policies of this administration. If he can blanket claim the right to deny documents to the National Archives then he has sigificantly reduced the number of documents the administration will have to make public right there, and provided a 'safe' spot within the administration where they can send the most damning of documents and get them out of harm's way.
This administration is aware that the sand is starting to run out of the hourglass, and when it does they could be caught holding documentation on torture, secret surveillance of American citizens, kidnapping and 'black rendition,' detention of prisoners for secret trials, and other illegal operations. Like a drug dealer who has been tipped off that their house has been staked out and the police are on their way, they have a limited time to dispose of the sticky evidence and a lot of it to get rid of.
I fear that Cheney's announcement may be a probe, intended to see how far they can push the needle in terms of covering up what they have done. But expect over the next couple of years more and more stories like this as the Bush administration does everything they can to bury their skeletons (and may we hope that is only a figurative description.)