Could any lawyers out there seriously explain something to me? I honestly do not understand the idea that the president (and, by extension, the vice president and anyone in the executive branch) can keep the advice he gets secret. Exactly what is being protected by this? The right of the President to lie to the American people? The right of corporate executives to lie to shareholders and the public? We’re talking about public policy here, not personal investments. If someone is giving advice to the president about how to run the country, shouldn’t that advice be in the public interest? What kind of advice would they want kept secret if not advice that was not in the public interest? Don’t you think we would have a right to know what that advice was? Whose interest is being protected by saying advice not in the public interest should be kept secret?
Let me give a hypothetical example. An advocate from a non-government agency specializing in feeding the hungry tells that president that he should increase the budget for feeding the hungry because there are (I’m making this up) five million children going to bed hungry each night. (Let’s suppose that they can back these numbers up with facts and figures.) After meeting the president, he happily tells the press that he advised the president to increase the budget for feeding the hungry. Now suppose that a big agricultural business executive (an “agrixec”) tells the president that there are only about 250,000 hungry kids, and that not only should he cut the feed-the-hungry budget, but that he should just give big agri-business a tax break if they promise to do more to reduce hunger in America. (Note: proof of accomplishment is not required for the tax break, only the promise to do so.) Afterwards, the agrixec tells the public that he told the president to increase the budget for feeding the hungry. Turns out that when the president releases his budget, he did exactly what the agrixec privately told him to do. Are you going to tell me that the president has some kind of constitutional right to keep that advice he got secret from the public? How are we, a public with a need and right to be informed, supposed to know that he’s being told crap like this if he’s allowed to keep it secret from us, the people on whose behalf he is supposed to be working! Can you explain that to me? Because if the public is the one who is supposed to be served by our government, it really doesn’t make any logical sense. (And yes, this relates to the Cheney energy policy. Do you think the advice that Cheney got was in the public interest, or in the corporations’ interests? And how much of that discussion involved the eventual fate of Iraq’s oil fields? Could that be the real reason he wanted that advice kept secret? No, I can’t prove it because he won’t release the records. But he could easily prove me wrong by releasing them.) By the way, I should emphasize that I obviously support keeping properly classified information secret. That much is obvious. By law, information is only supposed to “classified” when its disclosure could harm national security. It is explicitly illegal to classify information just because it might be embarrassing to the government, or any of its officials. Remember, they are supposed to be working for our good, not their own.