The capital last week was seized by the news that White House communications director Hope Hicks was leaving President Donald Trump’s side, the latest senior aide to depart a tumultuous West Wing. But as a symbol of what is wrong in Trump’s Washington, Hicks’ activities just before her announcement were more potent.
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, she refused to answer any questions about anything that happened after Trump was sworn in. She did not - indeed could not - invoke executive privilege, a power that only Trump can wield to prevent disclosure of information to Congress. But she refused to answer anyway, as though executive privilege properly applied.
A self-respecting legislative branch would not allow executive-branch witnesses to so easily evade basic questioning, particularly when it concerns matters as important as the Russia investigation. Executive privilege’s scope remains a matter of debate, and every episode in which it is used - or abused - sets a precedent.
But past presidents have accepted boundaries on executive privilege that should not be eroded, acknowledging that the power cannot be used to obstruct legitimate investigations of possible illegal or unethical behavior within the executive branch.
Accordingly, President Ronald Reagan declined to invoke it during the Iran-contra scandal. It is unjustifiable to use executive privilege when the White House communications director is asked about, say, the president’s involvement in crafting a deceptive public statement about his son’s infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer - or, for that matter, her own role in the episode.
Republicans held Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in contempt when they were pursuing their trumped-up investigation of the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scheme. Zealously defending the dignity of the legislative branch mattered to them when a Democrat was in the White House. And now?
The Washington Post