Its clear by this administrations actions over the last 6 1/2 years that their interpretation of the Constitution is a narrow and self-preserving one, but their latest attempt to usurp more executive power is a blatant disregard for this country’s system of checks and balances. In the last several weeks, as the House Judiciary Committee has sought to find out more about the firing of 9 U.S. attorneys, they have been stonewalled by the administration repeatedly. Now as Congress has just laid the groundwork for filing contempt charges against top current and former White House officials for withholding information and refusing to answer questions, the administrations has invoked executive privilege, claiming the Justice Department will never be able to pursue these charges. An anonymous White House official claims that is the administrations view that Congress’ attempt to pursue contempt charges against White House officials “is a futile and and purely political act.” (The irony here is that the investigation isn’t about that the administration fired these U.S. attorneys, but that they did so for partisan, political reasons and conspired to do so.)
The administration cites a 1984 case against Anne Gorsuch Burford, then administrator of the EPA, in which the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opined, “The President, through a United States Attorney, need not, indeed may not, prosecute criminally a subordinate for asserting on his behalf a claim of executive privilege. Nor could the Legislative Branch or the courts require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.” Basically, stating that since the U.S. Attorneys serve the President, he can forbid them from pursuing contempt charges on any of his subordinates.
Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues commented, “That’s a breathtakingly broad view of the president’s role in this system of separation of powers. What this statement is saying is the president’s claim of executive privilege trumps all.”
The precedent this sets is particularly alarming. Stanley Brand, Democratic House counsel during the Burford case, said the administration’s legal view “turns the constitutional enforcement process on its head. They are saying they will always place a claim of presidential privilege without any judicial determination above a congressional demand for evidence — without any basis in law.” Brand said the position is essentially telling Congress that because they control the enforcement process that don’t have to be held accountable.
With president’s approval rating hovering at or below a dismal 30% for last few years, it seems that the administration is unwilling to answer to the will of the American people or the will of Congress. Vice President Cheney’s office is currently blocking efforts by the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office to obtain classified documents for the purpose of making sure they are safeguarded correctly. The VP’s office claims that it is not fully a part of the executive branch so doesn’t have to comply with the order, which is one that, incidently, was signed by the president. Also, it seems contradictory for the office to claim that it’s not part of the executive branch while refusing to hand over information invoking executive privilege.
While the legal arguments being made by the administration are sketchy at best, they seem to be holding up to an increasingly hostile public and Congress. The American people do not trust this president and his own party has turned against him. He has refused, consistently, any sort of accountability for his actions and will continue to do so. For Congress to reestablish the people’s confidence in the Executive Branch, it may be essential that they proceed with something that is implicitly within their power: Impeachment. There’s no arguing against this…it is the House and Senates power alone to impeach the president and it’s times like these — when a president will not adhere to law or the will of the Constitution — that the Impeachment process was meant for.