Executive Privilege. Accountability in Crises and Public Trust in Governing Institutions.

November 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM

Executive privilege poses a complex dilemma: a presidential administration sometimes needs to conduct the duties of government in secret, yet the coordinate branches and the public need information about the executive branch so that they can fulfill their democratic responsibilities.  We should propose that the resolution to the dilemma of executive branch secrecy and democratic accountability is in the founders’ theory of the separation of power.  That theory allows for a carefully exercised and properly constrained presidential power of executive privilege.  Not all will agree however.

 In a political system predicted on democratic accountability, many believe that there can be no legitimate basis at all for executive privilege.  I am certainly not alone in the view that executive branch secrecy is indefensible.  In 1885 future president of the United States Woodrow Wilson argued that representative government must be predicated on openness.  He explained that Congress had the high responsibility of investigating administration activities.  It is proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees.  The Wilsonian view is echoed today by those who maintain that executive privilege is a dubious doctrine.  These individuals believe that executive privilege cannot be legitimate under a separation of power systems in which the legislative branch has extensive investigating powers.  Among the justifications given for withholding information, none is more prominent than national security concerns.  Although most would agree that some limits on access to national security information are reasonable.  Many argue that because all information is of possible value to an adversary, adopting a standard is not possible.  Moreover, national security is a term of political art, which can be defined by a given administration to coincide with its political interests.  The men in power tend, sometimes unconsciously, to equate their own personal and partisan interests with the national interest, no matter how noble their motives.

I am particularly concerned about freedom of the press issues.  Democracies accountability cannot exist, I believe, in a society in which the press is limited in what it can investigate and report.  Consequently, executive privilege cannot coexist with the Bill of Rights and accountable government.  Freedom to publish about government is either absolute, or it does not exist, Wise says.  Once qualified, it may be described as something else, but not as freedom of the press.

Sign Up for E-News

I also believe that executive branch leaders use national security as a reason to withhold vital information from Congress, the bureaucracy, and the public and thus destroy democratic accountability.  Today, secrecy often originates from a domestic political need.  Furthermore, we should maintain that secrecy threatens the basic liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  The Framers sought to design a structure for effective leadership that would not threaten liberty. The Framers then, concerned with individual liberties purposefully did not grant a presidential power of privilege in Article II of the Constitution.  According to them, secrecy fosters official lying, and consequently, public policy must be based on complete openness in governmental deliberations.  They believed that openness was constitutionally necessary and that it protects citizens against lost leaders who scheme to prevent the American public learning the truth. I admit that we are concerned with more than just protecting liberty and democratic accountability.  I believe that open government will also ensure a number of policy changes that they desire, such as decreased defense budgets and less U.S. intervention in international affairs.

For our purpose, the major concerns about executive privilege are the rights of citizens and governmental accountability.  Nearly five decades ago, James Wiggins[i] wrote that each added measure of secrecy measurable diminishes our freedom.  During the Watergate period, investigative reporter Clark Mollenhoff testified before Congress that executive privilege would eventually destroy all our freedom.  It is unfortunate that shortsighted people outside of government have occasionally given a degree of support to this so-called time honored doctrine and this phony well-established precedent of executive privilege.

A classically, slippery slope argument characterizes many of the critics of executive privilege: allow any measure of withholding of information, and ultimately all our liberties will be undertermined and democratic accountably destroyed.  This argument is countered by the views of other analysts who believe that current limitations on secrecy policies are not in the public interest.  Should we criticize the argument of former representative Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) that secretly arrived at policies are inferior to ones arrived at in full public view?  I counter that it is all wonderfully high-minded and unexceptionable, it is also unworkable.  These abstract principles are in conflict with a world where secrecy makes its own demands.  If secrets of various sorts cannot be kept, good policy and good relations are impossible.  Contrary to the argument of the critics of executive privilege, I maintain that our political culture is overly suspicious of secrecy; this is in stark contrast to Great Britain, where the Official Secrets Act of libel laws render the British government and media far more close-mouthed than ours.

I find the differences between the U.S and British secrecy policies telling. For example, under U.S. law, it is a felony to lie to Congress, whereas in Great Britain, there is no penalty or deceiving Parliament.  Instead, punishment is meted out to those who dare expose the deception.  In Great Britain, unauthorized disclosure of official information is a crime, whereas in the United States, as much official information as possible is made public or is at least guaranteed to be available through the Freedom of Information Act.  Clearly, no one has discovered exactly how to balance the competing and valid claims of freedom of information and governmental secrecy.  As an informed populace we should ask, how much does a congressional committee need to know without exposing sensitive and necessary operations?


[i] Rozell, Mark J.  1994.  Executive Privilege: The Dilemma of Secrecy and Democratic Accountability

 

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Lance, Pascrell Bill Will Keep ‘Blue Lines’ in Towns

January 18, 2017

NEW JERSEY --- U.S. Reps. Leonard Lance (NJ-07) and Bill Pascrell (NJ-09) today took up the cause of many New Jersey municipalities and law enforcement groups by proposing the Blue Line Use Exception (BLUE) Act (H.R. 566).  Legislation that will permit ‘blue lines’ to be displayed on roadways. 

“One hundred thirty five police officers died in the line of duty in ...

New Providence Historical Society presents 'History Talks' Sponsored by Wells Fargo

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - “History Talks” is a new series of speakers in 2017 presented  by the New Providence Historical Society covering topics relating to New Providence, Union County and New Jersey.

On February 17, 2017, Edward Eckert will give a presentation on the History of Nokia Bell Labs, sponsored by Wells Fargo. For decades, the legendary research center has given birth ...

Nicholas J. Dimakos to Speak on Handling Contested Guardianships

Nicholas J. Dimakos, an Associate of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A., will speak on the role of the court-appointed attorney at “Handling Contested Guardianships.”  Sponsored by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE) in cooperation with the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Section and the NJSBA Senior ...

Paralympic wheelchair Fencing Is Topic At Berkeley Heights Rotary Club Meeting

Grown from a small gathering of British World War II veterans in 1948, the Paralympic Games is a major international multi-sport event involving athletes with a range of disabilities, including impaired muscle power, range of movement, limb deficiency, and even vision impairment. One of the most exciting Paralympic sport is Wheelchair Fencing.

At the Rotary's next lunch-time meeting, ...

Thank You Westfield!

January 14, 2017

Almost five years ago Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, opened its doors in Westfield, thanks to the vision and generosity of Dr. Gerald Glasser and the leadership of Keith Hertell, our first board chair, and all the other founding board members.  We opened our doors on the  third floor of the First United Methodist Church and started our program.

Since then we have served over ...

Union County Clerk Recognized for Tech Achievement

January 14, 2017

UNION COUNTY, NJ -- Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi was nationally recognized for her leadership in the use of electronic recording technology.

Rajoppi was presented with the national 2016 eRecording All-Star Trailblazer Award, a competitive recognition sponsored by the global business solutions company Corporation Service Company. The Trailblazer award recognizes a recording office that has ...

Ciattarelli Announces Successful Throat Cancer Surgery, Scales Back Gubernatorial Campaign Temporarily

January 15, 2017

TRENTON, NJ - State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-16th, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, announced yesterday that he had undergone successful surgery for throat cancer in November, and will be curtailing his campaign schedule temporarily.

Gearing up for a primary campaign against several other Republicans who want to run for New Jersey, Ciattarelli, a Hillsborough ...

It’s Go Time.

This one goes out to all the juniors out there. 

I can feel you squirming in your seats, “Who me?” Yes, you!  The time has come to turn that college dial up a notch.  “But I still have so much time left!”  But you really don’t.  Ideally in a year from now you’ll be sifting through acceptance letters and weighing college options ...

Mayor's Round Table on the Road with the Rotary Club of Berkeley Heights: Volunteerism Makes a Difference in the Community

GILLETTE, NJ - Mayor's Round Table is a monthly show hosted by Dr. Donald DeFabio, who sits with Mayor Robert Woodruff to talk about current issues that affect the township as well as answer questions submitted by citizens. This month, the Mayor's Round Table went on location and were guests of the Rotary Club of Berkeley Heights on Dec. 16 at Chimney Rock Inn in ...

Ciattarelli Announces Successful Throat Cancer Surgery, Scales Back Gubernatorial Campaign Temporarily

January 15, 2017

TRENTON, NJ - State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-16th, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, announced yesterday that he had undergone successful surgery for throat cancer in November, and will be curtailing his campaign schedule temporarily.

Gearing up for a primary campaign against several other Republicans who want to run for New Jersey, Ciattarelli, a Hillsborough ...

Back Pain & Sciatica: Fix it Forever

Back pain is the second reason after the common cold for visits to the doctor: 80 % of the American public has back pain of sufficient intensity to seek care and treatment. Sciatica, pain shooting down the leg, is often related to back pain and is successfully treated with non-surgical and natural treatment.

Before any treatment can begin for your back and leg pain an accurate diagnosis and ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_ddb615667c17d33439d1_cc08308976910c1bffc6_citizenship

Wed, January 18, 11:00 AM

Summit Public Library , Summit

Citizenship Study Group Practice for the Test

Education Government

Carousel_image_a88a67d7c51fc2b1361c_2b4f9e1efe9242037202_bridge

Wed, January 18, 12:00 PM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Duplicate Bridge at the Y

Arts & Entertainment

Carousel_image_332816ffb7549fab1cf5_a508fc81b13af55e52de_zumba_with_danielle

Wed, January 18, 6:45 PM

Berkeley Heights YMCA, Berkeley Heights

Zumba With Danielle

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_201e7770238443f38ae0_1eea8d33c52f9290b02b_inclusion

Wed, January 18, 7:30 PM

Summit Free Public Library, Summit

Author talk: Jeanne D’Haem,  "Inclusion: The ...

Education

Carousel_image_4b779468f3928b0c3891_b00c18ffedd6ebd2db5e_a4aa4fb3d8fc8103f56f_touch_tennis

Thu, January 19, 12:00 PM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Touch Tennis

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_dcd4869c222de7d05057_acg_womens_jan_19

Thu, January 19, 12:00 PM

Convene Midtown East, New York

ACG New York Women of Leadership Summit

Business & Finance Food & Drink

Berkeley Heights Strikers FC Wins 3 X 3 DTS Tournament

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Strikers FC girls U8 team won the Girls 3v3 indoor Tournament "U8 Girls" bracket held at DTS Soccer Centers in Somerville.

The Strikers, a festival team of 17 first and second 1st graders representing the Berkeley Heights Youth Soccer Club, entered two teams in the bracket. The "blue" squad went ...