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Open it up.

When governments decide that the public's interest is best served by keeping people ignorant, alarm bells should ring somewhere. In July, two separate decisions sought to deny the American public its right to know.

A fiercely partisan debate in the House of Representatives resulted in a vote of 244-to-183 against releasing all the documents related to the House Post Office investigation. And a couple of days later, the first-ever closed hearing was held for confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee, following the decision of Senator Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Neither decision will keep the public from eventually learning the facts. Illinois Democrat Dan Rostenkowski has already been implicated in the Post Office scandal and his name has been splashed over front pages nationwide. And The New York Times reported the day after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's closed hearing that the Senators quizzed her on her failure to list a country-club initiation fee as a gift on her financial-disclosure forms. So why all the secrecy?

House Democrats argued that releasing the Post Office documents would undermine a grand jury investigation of alleged embezzlement and other criminal activities. But their rhetoric against full disclosure was clearly an attempt to save Rostenkowski's name - if such a thing were possible - and to prevent the surfacing of any other embarrassing instances of fraud.

Republicans had a field day. They hinted at coverups and sinister Democratic plots. "At the heart of this debate is a prolonged, systematic pattern of denial, of silence, of secrets known to the select few, of winks and nods among the old-boy network in the majority," said House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois.

Releasing the House documents would certainly help confirm or dispel the rumors surrounding the Post Office scandal. Some members of Congress have speculated on a possible drug-dealing link. Others have wondered whether Rostenkowski and former Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Joe Kolter were the only members tainted by the scandal. So long as the documents remain sealed, public confidence in the House can only erode.

On the Senate side, Chairman Biden, who bungled the handling of Anita Hill's accusations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, said closed hearings on any allegations against the Supreme Court nominee's personal conduct and the classified investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation would avoid future problems.

Ginsburg's personal conduct, unlike Thomas's, did not make headline news. The closed session lasted only twenty minutes. But no matter how dull the content of that hearing, it should have been open to the media and the public. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life and their decisions affect us all. It is not too much to insist that a candidate for such a powerful position should be subjected to full public scrutiny.
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Title Annotation:House Post Office scandal; closed confirmation hearings
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:460
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