The Subterfuge of Privilege

Harriet Miers has apparently refused to answer the subpoena to testify before Congress, claiming that she has “absolute immunity” from testifying due to the Bush Administration’s claim of executive privilege. Yesterday, Sara Taylor, the former White House political director, testified that she had no knowledge of President Bush being involved in the firing of US Attorneys, and claimed she had never spoken with him regarding the issue. Mr. Bush, through his lawyer Fred Fielding, had similarly urged Ms. Taylor to forgo her testimony before Congress.

It seems passingly strange to invoke executive privilege over something that never occurred, and one is led to either of two conclusions: Mr. Bush was involved, either with or without the knowledge of Ms. Taylor, or the Administration’s reflexive tendency to secrecy cannot be held in check even were it to exonerate the Administration. Of course, there are levels of intricacy lost in this simplistic breakdown; Mr. Bush may not have been involved, but is trying to protect those who were, including the constantly looming shadow of Karl Rove. Regardless, the Administration appears hell bent on obscuring any sort of meaningful inquiry into its actions or non-actions.

The Administration’s unwillingness to move from the shadows has become obvious on many levels. For the vice president it has blossomed from his early fight to keep his energy meetings secret to developing his own classification stamp that apparently even ends up on talking points for press conferences. During the dust-up with Congress over the US Attorney firings, Mr. Gonzales chose (at least) the appearance of rank incompetence over any semblance of transparency with his constant iteration of “I don’t recall.”

Executive privilege is an important part of the presidency – we want our leader to be able to obtain advice unfettered by political concerns. At the same time, it should not be invoked lightly, and it should not shield the day-to-day workings of a government that is supposed to be by the people and for the people. The American people should not accept such behavior from it’s representatives.

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