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The secret principles of transparency

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Obama's Promise of Government Transparency Is a Farce


As the "most transparent administration in history" shields more operations in secrecy, it's worth asking, What is it so afraid of?

Gene Healy

In April 2010, when President Barack Obama's then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that "this is the most transparent administration in the history of our country," Politico reported that "laughter broke out in the briefing room."

For those of us with a mordant sense of humor, the Obama administration's record on transparency is comedy gold. In his letter last week formally requesting that President Obama invoke executive privilege in the Fast and Furious scandal, Attorney General Eric Holder fretted that turning over documents sought by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee raised "substantial separation of powers concerns" and could "create an imbalance in the relationship between these two co-equal branches of government."

"Co-equal branches"? An "imbalance[d] relationship"? Don't make me laugh. Just last week, the National Security Agency refused to provide Congress with a rough estimate of how many Americans have had their communications monitored by the agency since 2008, on the grounds that revealing that information might violate Americans' privacy. As a result, my colleague Jim Harper lamented, "Congress has no idea what the NSA is doing."

As it happens, the Obama team's executive privilege claim in Fast and Furious is exceptionally flimsy. The president claims "deliberative process privilege," the weakest form of the privilege, about which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has held "where there is reason to believe the documents sought may shed light on government misconduct, 'the privilege is routinely denied.' "

Still, as offenses go, it's pretty small beer compared to the administration's myriad other abuses of government secrecy privileges.

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