Dean defends sealed records

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean sealed his official records for a longer period of time than two previous Vermont governors. The secrecy received more attention this week with a report in Newsweek magazine. In an interview on Monday at Vermont Public Radio, Dean said he doesn’t know what’s in the sealed files, and that he followed the practice laid out by earlier governors.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Dean left behind an extensive paper trail that covers his 11 years as Vermont governor. But almost half of the files are kept secret for 10 years under the doctrine of “executive privilege.” Right before he left office, Dean said he wanted to seal the records in part to avoid embarrassment in future political campaigns.

Dean’s predecessors, Madeleine Kunin and Richard Snelling, also used executive privilege to seal some of their papers. But those files were kept secret for six years. Dean has sealed his for four years longer.

Newsweek magazine has recently reported that the effort to keep files closed may have been more extensive in other ways as well. The magazine says state agencies were told to remove all correspondence relating to Dean and ship them to the governor’s office for review under executive privilege. Dean says that’s a common practice for outgoing governors.

(Dean) “Of course, that’s what every governor does. There’s no news here. There’s not a governor I know of in any of the 50 states that doesn’t have an order to release certain records and save certain records and put them under seal for a certain period of time.”

(Dillon) Dean says he’ll release his records if President George Bush opens his records from his years as Texas governor. Bush’s files are sealed for 50 years. Dean says he doesn’t know what’s in his own closed files.

(Dean) “I have no idea what’s in there. This was all done by the legal counsel. That’s the way it’s always done.”

(Dillon) Before he left office last January, Dean’s lawyer negotiated an agreement with the Secretary of State’s office that covers how long the documents remain secret. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says Dean left behind a more extensive public record than other governors. She’s says former Governor Phil Hoff, for example, gave his papers to the University of Vermont and that they are only now becoming public.

Markowitz says it makes sense for Dean’s staff to ask state agencies to cull through their files for gubernatorial correspondence that could then be placed under seal.

(Markowitz) “In fact, it’s good records management practice. It’s a good practice to know who’s got copies of what might be the original in the office so that one assessment can be made of those records.”

(Dillon) Judicial Watch, a conservative group in Washington, has asked Markowitz to make the files public. But last week, Markowitz denied the request. She says the records are sealed under the doctrine of executive privilege, and the legal agreement between her and Howard Dean.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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