Repeat after me — the Most. Transparent. Administration. Evah. The White House has refused to allow the Senate to access over 9,000 top-secret documents related to their probe of CIA activities in interrogations and black-site operations, even though Barack Obama explicitly criticized those activities in the previous Bush administration when he ran for President in 2008. This time, Obama hasn’t even bothered to claim executive privilege:
The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege.
In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.
The significance of the materials couldn’t be learned. But the administration’s refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.
One has to wonder if this is just a habit in this administration. Let’s be clear about the context; the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation wants to get to the bottom of activities that took place before Obama became President. The theory of the investigation, to the extent we know it, is that the CIA lied to George W. Bush and Congressional intelligence committees about its interrogation tactics and operations in the war on terror. That’s probably why no explicit claim of executive privilege has been made — but absent that, the Senate Intelligence Committee has the right to see materials relating to proper oversight of the CIA.
Why not give them up, especially after five years? Obama pledged to clean up those areas of intelligence and national security, including the closure of the acknowledged detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and the end of “black sites” for secret detentions. At one point, Eric Holder planned to prosecute CIA officials over their actions, but eventually retreated when Congress balked. It’s not as if this administration had sympathy for the CIA on this issue, and certainly not five years ago.
The dispute indicates that the White House is more involved than it has acknowledged in the unprecedented power struggle between the committee and the CIA, which has triggered charges that the agency searched the panel’s computers without authorization and has led to requests to the Justice Department for criminal investigations of CIA personnel and Senate aides.
“These documents certainly raise the specter that the White House has been involved in stonewalling the investigation,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School.
At the same time, the White House tried to stop all of this from going public by trying to make peace between committee chair Dianne Feinstein and the CIA. Obviously, that plan didn’t work out too well:
The White House was more deeply involved than previously known in attempting to mediate the dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate committee investigating the spy agency’s interrogation practices, according to a pair of reports Wednesday night.
Reuters reported Wednesday evening that White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler attempted to “de-escalate” the conflict by mediating dueling complaints from Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Obama pledged yesterday that the White House would declassify the committee’s findings, as long as they finished their work quickly:
He said he was “absolutely committed” to the Senate investigation of the Bush-era practices, and planed to declassify the report as soon as it was finished.
“In fact, I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward,” Obama said.
Why would the committee finish its work without seeing the 9,000 documents being hidden by the White House? Pledging transparency in public while stonewalling access to materials in private is quite a cynical achievement, but the question remains why Obama is so anxious to get the report completed but unwilling to provide the material needed for a completely transparent result.