Obama Limits Discretion of Ex-Presidents' Records

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President Obama's executive order will still allow former presidents to have certain documents kept private, but they no longer may compel the National Archives to do so.

The executive order also makes clear that neither former vice presidents nor relatives of former presidents who have died have authority to keep records private.

Obama's action on Wednesday -- his first full day in office -- overturned an earlier order issued by George W. Bush that prompted a federal lawsuit.

Bush's executive order was issued in November 2001. A federal judge ruled parts of it invalid in 2007, while Obama's order revoked it entirely.

The Presidential Records Act, which followed Watergate and President Richard Nixon's attempts to hold on to his papers and tape recordings, made presidential records the property of the government, not former presidents.

Under the law, former presidents and vice presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. After that, most documents must be made public.

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