Fact Check: Is Congress Trying To Water Down Executive Privilege?

Fact Check: Is Congress Trying To Water Down Executive Privilege?
Fact Check: Is Congress Trying To Water Down Executive Privilege?

There’s nothing new about politicians giving a president they don’t agree with a hard time. From leaks and hostile briefings, to voting down flagship legislation and even forcing a government shutdown, it’s all fair play in politics. President Trump has driven his opponents into a hysterical frenzy that goes way beyond normal politics, though – to the extent they’re willing to change the way this country is run. The latest claim is that congressmen are trying to hack away at the principle of executive privilege in an attempt to undermine the president. Is this true?


  • Executive privilege is a power held by the president, and some other senior members of the executive branch, that lets them resist some subpoenas from other branches of government. It’s usually used when the president wants to negotiate with other countries in secret, giving him more flexibility to make a deal.
  • Executive privilege is constitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that the doctrine is legitimate and can be seen as part of the separation of powers built into the US government. Anyone serving a subpoena on executive branch members covered by executive privilege needs to show that the material they’re asking for is “essential to the justice of the case”.
  • Every president in the history of the US has used executive privilege to get their job done. Of course it’s also been used to cover more dubious activities – Barack Obama invoked it during the “Fast and furious” scandal, while Bill Clinton used it no less than 14 times.
  • Now, high-ranking Democrats want to tear up the whole principle by trying to subpoena notes Trump took from his interpreter at a 2017 meeting. The discussion, between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, took place in Hamburg in 2017.
  • Some Democrats seem to think that the interpreter’s notes, or even his testimony, will back up the ludicrous claims that our president is secretly a Russian agent. Now they’re determined to throw away a system that’s worked well for centuries, in the hope of finding evidence that’s guaranteed not to be there.
  • John Yoo, a former senior lawyer with the Justice Department, told journalists that it’s vital this attempt to overturn executive privilege is stopped. Citing the Supreme Court ruling that executive privilege meets a “valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them”.