Here’s why Trump’s abuse of ‘executive privilege’ could lead to impeachment proceedings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently asserted that she had no interest in impeaching President Donald Trump. Instead, Pelosi has encouraged congressional investigations and hearings. But Trump is angrily resisting Democratic subpoenas from the U.S. House of Representatives, vowing that he will fight every last one of them—and according to CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, the “ultimate irony” is that Trump will “keep making it harder for Democrats to avoid impeachment proceedings.


Trump, vowing to fight all subpoenas from Congress, has been claiming executive privilege. Zelizer, who is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in addition to his work for CNN, discusses the history of executive privilege claims by U.S. presidents in an April 25 article for  CNN’s website.

The executive privilege concept for U.S. presidents, Zelizer explains, can be justified by “the interests of national security or the need to allow staffers to have conversations free of the fear they will be on the front pages….  Presidents since George Washington have invoked the right to keep documents and advisers away from Congress under certain circumstances.” Zelizer notes that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, invoked executive privilege in the 1950s “when he refused to share information or advisers with the Army-McCarthy hearings.”

The CNN analyst goes on to write that in July 1974, the month before President Richard Nixon’s resignation because of the Watergate scandal, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld executive privilege as “a legitimate principle” but ruled that “in Nixon’s case, it could not be used” because “the right of the public to know the truth in an investigation outweighed the president’s right to block” recordings of White House conversations.

Zelizer adds that while “many presidents,” including Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Barack Obama in the 2010s, have made executive privilege assertions, Trump is “making a much bolder claim” by vowing to “defy all subpoenas because he does not believe the investigations are legitimate.”

Pelosi, as Zelizer points out, is furious over Trump’s abuse of executive privilege, saying, “President Trump and his administration are engaged in unprecedented stonewalling and once again using the legal system to conceal every area of his life as well as his wrongdoing and improprieties from the American people.”

Zelizer concludes his CNN article by saying that if Trump continues to abuse executive privilege and resist congressional oversight, more Democrats might decide that impeachment proceedings are unavoidable. Trump, Zelizer writes, “keeps forcing the nation’s hand in considering how far it is willing to let a president go before finally saying that enough is enough.”

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