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White House defends executive privilege claim in US Attorney firings controversy

[JURIST] The White House Monday renewed and elaborated its assertion of executive privilege [JURIST report] as regards testimony and materials wanted by Congressional investigators in connection with the US Attorney firings controversy [JURIST news archive]. In a letter [PDF text] to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) [official websites], White House counsel Fred Fielding rejected allegations that the blanket assertion of executive privilege in the matter belied good faith [JURIST report] and insisted that

the assertion of Executive Privilege here is intended to protect a fundamental interest of the Presidency: the necessity that President receive candid advice from his advisers and that those advisers be able to communicate freely and openly with the President, with each other, and with others inside and outside the Executive Branch. In the present setting, where the President's authority to appoint and remove U.S. Attorneys is at stake, the institutional interest of the Executive Branch is very strong. The Acting Attorney General's letter clearly identifies the subject matter of the deliberations and communications at issue and provides an extensive treatment of the issues implicated by the subpoenas and the legal basis for the President's assertion of Executive Privilege.
The White House letter was a response to a request from Leahy and Conyers that the White House provide a legal basis [JURIST report] for its initial assertion of executive privilege, which the two said was overbroad and contrary to established procedures. They also asked the executive to make specific written determinations for documents withheld. The White House Monday specifically rejected demands for document logs, saying that the "demand is unreasonable because it represents a substantial incursion into Presidential prerogatives... [and that] it would impose a burden of very significant proportions." The White House also renewed its offer of allowing former top White House officials to provide unsworn, unrecorded, behind-closed-door interviews with the judiciary committees.

Leahy and Conyers have said they will enforce the subpoenas [JURIST report] which may ultimately result in contempt of Congress [backgrounder] citations against former White House counsel Harriet Miers [official profile] and former White House Political Director Sara Taylor [SourceWatch profile]. The White House is also currently facing subpoenas [JURIST report] from the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] seeking documents related to the warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.

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