Trump's brazen and bogus attempt to hide the truth
Donald Trump spent weeks claiming the Robert Mueller Russian investigation had entirely cleared him of wrongdoing. But now Trump is so desperate to hide the underlying evidence Mueller uncovered, he has asserted a dubious claim of executive privilege over basically the entire 448-page report and all evidentiary material supporting Mueller's conclusions.
As the letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd to Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler stated, "this is to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials." But Attorney General William Barr's letter to Trump also suggests that it isn't an ultimate claim of executive privilege but rather a "protective assertion of privilege" so the Justice Department can spend time reviewing the subpoenaed materials. That may matter in the sense that it's a privilege claim that hasn't been litigated yet, according to Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare.
"Basically DOJ is acknowledging there's both privileged & non-privileged materials in the documents. They want more time to identify which is which," Hennessey explained. "They are citing a 1996 precedent that offers an OLC theory about the ability to assert a general privilege in order to preserve time to conduct the review. I don't believe a court has ruled on the question, but this is a question of time for review, not an ultimate assertion."
Nonetheless, former director of the federal government's ethics office, Walter Shaub, called Trump's claim a "ludicrous distortion of executive privilege," saying it was simply a delay tactic. Shaub noted that privilege claims are made about confidential advice given to a president, not criminal investigations in which they are subjects of the inquiry. "The Mueller report isn't advice to the President, which is what privilege is meant to protect," Shaub wrote. "But I guess Trump's efforts to conceal the report show he finally understands how bad it is for him."
Indeed, Trump's attempt to now hide the report he once touted as "TOTAL EXONERATION" gives up the game. He's running scared. But the claim does have one advantage, it gives House Democrats something to actually take to court and litigate, as former Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller noted.
"DOJ’s letter proves the value of House Dems taking the maximalist legal position as quickly as possible," Miller tweeted. "WH has to now assert exec privilege, something that can be litigated, rather than just delay things interminably. Will still take time, but at least there’s a process."
By refusing to back away from the contempt vote, House Democrats forced the attorney general and Trump to take a legal position that's justiciable rather than allowing them to just piddle away the clock interminably.