- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

President Bush yesterday invoked for the first time his presidential power of executive privilege to prevent Congress from reviewing Justice Department documents in several high-profile cases, including the probe into former President Bill Clinton's fund-raising practices.
"Because I believe that congressional access to these documents would be contrary to the national interest, I have decided to assert executive privilege with respect to the documents and to instruct you not to release them" to the House Committee on Government Reform, Mr. Bush wrote in a memorandum to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Committee Chairman Dan Burton had been seeking Justice Department memos about prosecutors' decisions in cases involving Democratic fund-raising practices, a former Clinton White House official, the handling of mob informants in Boston and a former federal drug enforcement agent.
A committee subpoena requested a memo from the chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force recommending that Janet Reno, attorney general during the Clinton administration, appoint a special prosecutor.
Mr. Bush's invocation of executive privilege angered Mr. Burton.
"This is not a monarchy. The legislative branch has oversight responsibility to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch," the Indiana Republican said.
"We might be able to go to the [House] floor and take this thing to court," Mr. Burton told Justice Department lawyers at a hearing after the announcement. "Everyone is in agreement you guys are making a big mistake."
However, the threat of legal action seems remote. The full House, controlled by Republicans, would have to vote to find Mr. Bush in contempt to initiate such a court battle.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on the committee and a fierce Clinton defender, agreed with Mr. Burton, a vocal Clinton foe.
"An imperial presidency or an imperial Justice Department conflicts with the democratic principles of our nation," Mr. Waxman said.
Mr. Bush, however, said complying with the subpoena would have been contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers of America.
"The Founders' fundamental purpose in establishing the separation of powers in the Constitution was to protect individual liberty," Mr. Bush wrote.
"Congressional pressure on executive branch prosecutorial decision making is inconsistent with separation of powers and threatens individual liberty."
Mr. Bush continued: "Disclosure to Congress of confidential advice to the attorney general regarding the appointment of a special counsel and confidential recommendations to Department of Justice officials regarding whether to bring criminal charges would inhibit the candor necessary to the effectiveness of the deliberative process by which the department makes prosecutorial decisions."
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the subpoena was an attempt to "politicize" the prosecutorial process.
"The reason President Bush in this case exerted executive privilege was to protect the effectiveness and the deliberativeness of the justice process," Mr. Fleischer said.
"In this case, where after the administration had already turned over 3,500 pages to the House committee in question, they continued to pressure the administration to obtain very specific prosecutorial decision-making memoranda that are the heart of the justice process," he said.
Executive privilege is best known for the unsuccessful attempts by Presidents Nixon and Clinton to keep evidence secret during impeachment investigations. Mr. Clinton asserted the privilege four times during his administration.

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