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Friday Night Document Dumps


If Richard Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre undermined democracy, so do George Bush's Friday Night Document Dumps.

Nixon's Watergate-era firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the resignations of his attorney general and deputy was viewed as a gross abuse of presidential power.

Bush habitually makes controversial announcements on Friday night, after networks and newspaper deadlines. The practice subtly and insidiously undermines democracy. It deprives the public of information it needs to make decisions about its leaders.

Take last Friday, when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it had published details of its cross-border trucking program. The press release made the bold claim that it "continued to meet or exceed every condition required by law."

Reporters had little time to read the 17-page, legalese-rich document. Opponents had even less time to point out that in no way does the Bush administration's reckless plan to allow Mexican trucks travel freely on American highways "meet or exceed every condition required by law."

Sadly, we've gotten used to the Bush administration document dump. As the scandal unfolded over the Justice Department's firing of prosecutors for political reasons, e-mails and reports subpoenaed by the Senate were routinely released on Friday nights. Thousands of pages of documents were dumped late on March 23 and April 27 -- both Fridays.

All administrations are guilty of downplaying controversial news by releasing it when few people are paying attention. The Bush administration, though, brings the Friday Night Document Dump to a new level.

Consider some of the announcements made on Friday night.

Bush released hundreds of pages from his National Guard files -- not something he could have been proud of -- at 7 pm on Friday.

The Commerce Department announced household income statistics for the first time on a Friday. The reason? They shed an unflattering light on Bush administration economic policies; the numbers showed household incomes had declined for three straight years.

Bush announced he would eliminate requirements that dirty coal-fired plants and refineries upgrade their pollution controls on a Friday. And, he announced the resignations of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Army Secretary Thomas White, who had worked at Enron, on a Friday.

Bush also announced on a Friday that he opposed an investigation into Karl Rove's conversations with companies he owned stock in.

Friday was the day that he made recess appointments of Charles W. Pickering, and William H. Pryor, to the federal bench. Both men were so unpopular they couldn't get Senate approval.

Bush knows the American people don't want dangerous Mexican trucks driving around the U.S. Could there be any better evidence than his decision to forge ahead with this reckless program on a Friday night? And could there be a less democratic way to go about it?