Bush, Roberts and Government Secrecy

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Courts/Law, Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

The Bush White House is once again play hide-and-seek, this time with memos written by Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.  While they are turning over some documents from Roberts’ past, they are refusing to turn over documents from 1989 to 1993, when Roberts was deputy solicitor general.  The stated reason?  Attorney-client privilege.

A-C privilege is a sticky wicket, but it makes for a poor excuse in this case.  For one thing, as even conservatives acknowledge, the privilege belongs to the client, not the lawyer.  This means the A-C privilege is meant to protect the client, not the lawyer.  So I had to laugh when I read this from RedState.org’s Pejman Yousefzadeh.  He acknowledged that the privilege belongs to the client, but then writes:

Without the shield of privacy that is traditionally afforded to interoffice memoranda, lawyers will be deterred from spelling out their views and analysis in the honest manner that is necessary to ensure the most accurate appraisal possible of important legal issues.

Yup, the “shield” protects “lawyers” all of a sudden.

But let’s focus on the statement again and ask a simple question:  Is it even true?

Suppose you are a lawyer in the solicitor general’s office, and you are asked to render a legal opinion on an “important legal issue” to your client, the United States of America.  Aren’t you going to render your views and analysis “in an honest manner” regardless of whether or not that information becomes public?  After all, if you honestly argue that the Constitution says X, and you back it up in an internal memo, why would you change that view if you thought the public was going to read that memo?  You wouldn’t!

But Yousefzadeh’s comment demonstrates the dichotomy between the public face of the government and inner workings of the government.  It is a tacit acknowledgement that the government we see is a mere facade, and that what is REALLY going on should be secret.  It reveals the distrust that the Bush government has for the people of America—why would they go to such lengths to hide things from us?

Mind you, we’re not talking about classified information or anything else where there is a present national interest in keeping it hush-hush (although this administration, when it suits them, don’t care about that either).  We’re talking about a government lawyer’s professional opinions, derived from case law and other things in the public domain.  Revealing the legal viewpoints of a Supreme Court nominee are certainly pertinent to a full and fair hearing on his nomination.

This administration seems to forget that they are public servants.  Their role is to serve the people, not themselves, not their party, not their own ideology.  It is in the national interest that we, through our elected representatives, know as much as we can about a man who may play a pivotal role, as a Supreme Court justice, in our futures. 

So why the shadows?

We’ve see it all the time from this administration—Cheney refusing to reveal what was said when he met with oil executives to hash out a national energy policy; secret no-bid contracts being given to preffered corporations like Halliburton; attempts to keep disturbing photos from the public eye (caskets, Abu Ghraib)—the list goes on and on.

As reported here:

For the first time, a majority of Americans, 51%, say the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — the reason Bush emphasized in making the case for invading. The administration’s credibility on the issue has been steadily eroding since 2003.

If the Bush Administration wants to regain its trust with the American people, perhaps it should not be so secretive—or more accurately, selectively secret—about what it knows, and should be more open.  American people will forgive flaws and mistakes, but not attempts to hide them.  Or, as the saying goes, “it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up”.  So why is Bush & Co. covering things up?  What will it take before they stop playing public-manipulation games, and just put their cards on the table?  Do they hate an open form of government, or what?