White House Says Classification Order Doesn’t Apply to Bush or Cheney Staff
The White House says that the president’s and vice president’s staff was always intended to be exempt from a presidential order describing the handling of classified documents, Josh Meyer reports.
The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, President Bush’s office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information. An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn’t specifically say so, Bush’s order was not meant to apply to the vice president’s office or the president’s office, a White House spokesman said.
The president, as the sole authority for issuing Executive Orders, has an absolute right to exempt whomever he wishes from the. Still, it’s a horrible idea to exempt the Executive Office of the President and Office of the Vice President from this scrutiny, since they represent the probably the greatest breach threat in the Executive branch: people who have not spent their whole careers dealing with Sensitive Compartmented Information who are presumably dealing with the mostly highly sensitive materials.
[Democratic Congressman Henry] Waxman and J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, have argued that the order clearly applies to all executive branch agencies, including the offices of the vice president and the president.
The White House disagrees, [White House spokesman Tony] Fratto said. “We don’t dispute that the ISOO has a different opinion. But let’s be very clear: This executive order was issued by the president, and he knows what his intentions were,” Fratto said. “He is in compliance with his executive order.” Fratto conceded that the lengthy directive, technically an amendment to an existing executive order, did not specifically exempt the president’s or vice president’s offices. Instead, it refers to “agencies” as being subject to the requirements, which Fratto said did not include the two executive offices. “It does take a little bit of inference,” Fratto said.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy project, disputed the White House explanation of the executive order. He noted that the order defines “agency” as any executive agency, military department and “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information” — which, he said, includes Bush’s and Cheney’s offices.
Aftergood’s interpretation of the language of the Order is reasonable enough. Still, if the president decides that the orders he issues don’t apply to himself, his staff, or Bob in Accounting, that’s his call. It’s a bad call, in my judgment, but one that’s his to make.