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Keeping the Dark Lord’s Secrets

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The Obama Justice Department has demonstrated few things more clearly than its commitment to keep the dirtiest secrets of its predecessors. One absurd example is the controversy over the notes from Dick Cheney’s fateful interview with FBI agents about his role in the outing of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent—an exercise that carried him to the brink of being indicted. The Obama Justice team is convinced that America is better off not knowing what Dick Cheney told the G-men. In support of this view, it advances some dubious propositions.

Consider this passage from the Justice Department’s brief:

“These privileges belong to the government. The presidential communications privilege belongs to the President; the deliberative process privilege asserted here belongs to the White House; and the law enforcement privilege asserted here belongs to DOJ. A government official, even one as senior as the Vice President cannot implicitly waive these governmental privileges by individually submitting to an interview.”

This passage has the cadence and breathlessness of Gollum of the Lord of the Rings talking about “my precious.” The ring made its wearer secret and brought him into communion with the Dark Forces. The deeper we reach, the more disturbing these claims of privilege become. What is the motive behind them? Not the protection of vital state secrets of any sort. The Justice Department representations to the court suggest the basest possible purpose: to shield a public figure from public ridicule over his inappropriate, indeed possibly criminal, conduct in high office.

[Justice Department spokesman Jeffrey] Smith said the documents could be released years later for “historical purposes,” but shouldn’t be released now because they would be used in the “political fray.”

This is to be added to the other explanation they advance, namely that senior elected officials will abusively invoke privilege claims to block legitimate criminal investigations unless their cooperation with law enforcement is kept secret. This is an argument made by a law enforcement agency? Working our way through the Justice Department’s claims, we come down to this proposition: ensuring that the public has a distorted view of what transpired by suppressing the truth is a legitimate policy objective. Judge Emmett Sullivan expressed appropriate skepticism in the face of the Justice Department’s stream of increasingly unhinged rationalizations for its fixation on secrecy. Now it’s time to fill in the historical record by disclosing another of Dick Cheney’s dirty secrets.

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