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Obama White House breaks another promise to reject Bush secrecy

July 22, 2009 |  1:44 am

President George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama leave the White House together Inauguratrion Day 1-20-09

Well, at least it's bipartisan.

The still sort-of-new Barack Obama Democratic administration has again adopted another policy straight out of the administration of his much-criticized Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama administration officials have rejected a watchdog group's request for a list of healthcare industry executives who've been meeting secretly in the White House with Obama staffers to discuss healthcare changes being drafted there and in Congress.

According to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is suspicious of the influence of health industry lobbyists and company officers, it received a letter from the Secret Service citing an Obama Justice Department directive and denying access to visitor logs under the "presidential communications privilege."

Sound familiar?

Remember the holy hullabaloo in the early Bush years when Vice President Dick Cheney met in the White House compound with energy industry officials and refused to release a list of those executives and the frequency of their visits? That controversy was propelled by critical Democrats and was before Obama's brief Senate tenure.

But wait! Here are a few promises straight off the Obama Organizing for America website early this morning:

The Problem
Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.

Secrecy Dominates Government Actions: The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the "state secrets" privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.

Oh, and this:

Release Presidential Records: Obama and Biden will nullify the Bush attempts to . . .

. . . make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.

And this:

Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.

Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

These statements are on the same Web page as a highlighted Obama campaign quote: "I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. . . . I'm asking you to believe in yours."

The citizen ethics group has threatened to file a lawsuit against Obama as early as today despite an administration claim that it was reviewing policies.

But it's an inconsistency that someone might ask the president about at his Cleveland town hall meeting Thursday and/or during his prime-time news conference this evening (5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern). As usual, we'll be watching and have the full transcript here ASAP.

In recent weeks The Ticket has also been regularly chronicling Vice President Joe Biden's numerous "private meetings" in the White House and his Delaware home with unidentified people on unnamed subjects.

And we wondered aloud how such secret get-togethers differed from Cheney's secret meetings. No answer.

But then the other day, as we duly noted here, Biden's White House schedule suddenly stopped listing "private meetings." Instead, it began calling them "meetings that are closed press." A distinction without any practical difference in terms of contradicting candidate Obama's promised governing transparency.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Pablo Monsivais / Associated Press

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