Obama's ’09 Pledge: ‘Information Will Not Be Withheld Just Because I Say So’

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | October 25, 2012 | 1:58 PM EDT

Yesterday, the White House declined to say when Pres. Obama first learned of three e-mails the State Dept. sent to it on Sept. 11, 2012 saying the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was under attack and that the group Ansar al-Sharia had taken credit for the attack. But, back in 2009, Pres. Obama promised “a new standard of openness.”

In his Jan. 21, 2009 remarks, Obama declared that “The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable” and that “Information will not be withheld just because I say so.”

“The mere fact that you have a legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it,” Obama said in a presentation to staffers regarding his directive calling for a new era of government transparency.

“For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.”

“I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness,” Obama pledged, adding: “Information will not be withheld just because I say so.”

Instead, it will be withheld because his lawyers say he can withhold it:

"Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution."

Yet, when asked the White House two simple, straightforward questions regarding the president’s knowledge of the e-mails about the Benghazi attack, it declined to answer. asked White House National Security staff aide Debbie Bird: 1) “When did the President first meet with the National Security Council after the Benghazi attack on 9/11/12?” 2) “When did White House staff first discuss the substance of the e-mails that went to the White House with the President or with the National Security Advisor?”

“I have been asked by one of our spokespeople to relay ‘that we decline to comment,’” Bird replied in a written response to

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