A brief guide to executive privilege, and why it won’t save the Trump administration


When Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, he pointedly refused to answer basically any questions about his conversations with President Trump.

Sessions insisted that because Trump enjoys “executive privilege” as to private communications and documents, he could not disclose any conversations he and the president might have had. “It would be premature for me to deny the president a full and intelligent choice about executive privilege,” he told Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

The attorney general’s intransigence clearly irritated committee members, especially Democrats, and their frustration has sound basis. While the president has a presumed right to privacy in his communications, the privileges enjoyed by Cabinet officials are much milder, and the Cabinet cannot invoke executive privilege on the president’s behalf. Furthermore, courts have been clear that even the president’s privileges are limited in scope, and specifically limited in ways that suggest the Trump administration has little basis to duck investigations from Congress and the special counsel’s office.

What executive privilege is

Executive privilege generally refers to the principle that the executive branch can sometimes ignore the legislature or judiciary’s subpoenas or other attempts to gain information from the White House, the president, his aides, and Cabinet agencies.

Often it’s limited to the president alone. Sessions repeatedly insisted in the hearing that he was not invoking executive privilege; “I’m not able to invoke executive privilege. That’s the president’s prerogative,” he told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Rather, he was refusing to answer in case the president himself wanted to invoke it later.

“Cabinet officials cannot claim executive privilege,” Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University and the author of Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy, and Accountability, explained in an email. “That is a presidential power alone.”

Executive privilege is sometimes divided into two types, each with its own justification. …read more

Source:: Vox – All

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