Analysis | What’s Contempt of Congress and Executive Privilege?


It’s the limited right of the president to decline requests from Congress and the courts for information about internal White House talks and deliberations. The privilege is supposed to provide a safe space for presidents to get candid advice from aides without the concern that they’ll later be called to testify. Though U.S. presidents have claimed a right to confidentiality in the face of congressional demands virtually since the founding of the republic, the U.S. Supreme Court first recognized executive privilege in 1974 in the endgame to the Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon, claiming absolute protection of all presidential communications, tried to withhold audio tapes of Oval Office meetings and other evidence demanded by a special prosecutor. Even as it rejected Nixon’s specific argument, the court agreed that a president generally does have an interest in maintaining White House secrecy.

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