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Backlash grows against White House secrecy

In Congress and the courts, challenges to Bush's tight control of information rise. Energy papers due out today.

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From the very start, George W. Bush made it clear that his would be a leak-tight White House. In the past year, he has succeeded to a remarkable degree, and is even carrying that promise far beyond his relationship with the media.

In an attempt to reinforce the powers of the executive branch, the Bush administration has denied Congress access to information on the vice president's energy task force, restricted the handling of presidential records, and curtailed government responses to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The war on terrorism has, understandably, added to the aura of discreetness, with Vice President Cheney often working in undisclosed locations, for example.

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, sees this pattern of secrecy as a return to the imperial presidencies of Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy. Others argue it differs little from the self-preservation tactics of any Oval Office occupant. Yet many in Washington – including both Democrats and Republicans – are concerned about the shift and are fighting back.

Their weapons are the courts, political pressure, and even the power of the subpoena, which Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has raised as a threat to get Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge to testify publicly before Congress.

The Bush clam-up "creates a reaction against the executive.... It creates distrust, animus," says Mr. Dallek, a biographer of President Lyndon Johnson who describes this administration as having an "authoritarian bent."

Documents to be released

Resistance from lawmakers and special-interest groups has begun to show some success. Today, the Department of Energy is expected to release thousands of pages of documents related to the energy task force as a result of a court order.

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