White House Wag: Bush Logs Off

Maybe the lawyers were still tired from the Florida recount.

That's one possible explanation for some inaccurate advice President Bush says he received from his legal team.

The New York Times reports Bush recently bid farewell to a list of e-mail buddies out of fear the messages would be released under public records laws.

"My lawyers tell me that all correspondence by e-mail is subject to open record requests," the incoming president wrote in a final Jan. 18 missive. "Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you."

While the president was probably wise to end his practice of sending online updates to his friends and relatives, he misstated the law. A host of court cases make clear that the federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply to communications involving the president or his closest advisers. Anyone who sends a so-called FOIA request to the White House will get a prompt reply to that effect.

Eventually, nearly all White House records become public through the National Archives collections at presidential libraries. Of course, there are many other ways that White House records can get into the public domain more quickly. They can be subpoenaed for use in criminal trials or civil lawsuits. But the most frequent and direct path to the public is via Capitol Hill.

During the Clinton administration, thousands of documents about the president's aggressive fundraising efforts, including some in Clinton's own handwriting, were made public. They had been subpoenaed by prosecutors and congressional committees and, in the end, the White House decided to release them to the press rather than let Republicans in Congress do the leaking. (The Clinton team could also have fought the subpoenas on the ground of executive privilege, but it chose to avoid such a high-profile fight.)

So while President Bush would have been running a substantial risk of reading his own words in the press if he'd kept up his group e-mails, it wasn't exactly the risk he described. Of course, he now finds himself reading one of his own messages in the Times, suggesting that the biggest threat of a leak may not have been the law or a subpoena, but his own pen pals.

Movie List Unveiled

In a column last September, I complained that while politicians were stirring up outrage over the marketing of R-rated films to kids, we didn't know which films they were talking about. And neither did they.

The Federal Trade Commission, which set off the pre-election squawking by releasing a study of movie marketing, wouldn't say which films it examined. I suggested that some parents might not object to their kids seeing ads for some R-rated films. The Patriot, after all, is not Porky's.

Well, thankfully, FOIA does apply to the commission. And after a few months in the bureaucratic morass, my request for the list of films whose marketing plans were studied has come through. So, in the spirit of making information gathered with taxpayer dollars available to the public, here are the R-rated ones:

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