At first, you might think Eric Holder’s testimony this morning was hypocritical. After all, he defiantly echoed the Bush administration’s defense of the separation of powers that drove liberals absolutely crazy. (Watch this Jon Stewart interview with John Bolton from 2007 in which Stewart gets so frustrated by the executive privilege argument he tells Bolton to “man up.” I’m sure he’ll be telling Holder to “man up” any day now.)
But in truth, Holder’s defense of executive privilege was perfectly consistent with the Obama administration’s position on this all along. For example, here’s a McClatchy dispatch about a move Obama made immediately upon assuming office:
President Barack Obama, in his first full day in office, revoked a controversial executive order signed by President Bush in 2001 that limited release of former presidents’ records.
The new order could expand public access to records of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the years to come as well as other past leaders, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
Get it now? Obama fully intended to provide more transparency–about the Bush administration. Open government groups, like the ACLU and the Sunlight Foundation, learned this lesson just a few months ago, when the Obama administration (Holder’s Justice Department specifically) proposed changes to Freedom of Information Act rules the ACLU described as “authorizing agencies to lie.” They were not exaggerating. The only thing this administration has more disdain for than the opinion of the American public is the concept of transparency.
Just for fun, here’s a comparison of what Bolton said to Stewart and what Holder said this morning. Bolton:
I think it’s important that the president have the advantage of confidentiality in his advice–that people are not worried that they spill their guts to the president and the next day they’ve got to up to Congress and say exactly what they said. You’re going to be more candid with your boss if you can give him advice in private and not have it in the public record shortly thereafter. That’s a fact.
Prior administrations have recognized that robust internal communications would be chilled, and the Executive Branch’s ability to respond to oversight requests thereby impeded, if our internal communications concerning our responses to congressional oversight were disclosed to Congress. For both Branches, this would be an undesirable outcome. The appropriate functioning of the separation of powers requires that Executive Branch officials have the ability to communicate confidentially as they discuss how to respond to inquiries from Congress.
Notice the difference? Holder went one step further by telling Congress he’s doing this for their own good as well as that of his boss. That is, Bolton was less condescending and less confrontational in his attitude toward congressional inquiry. That the Obama administration has gone further than the Bush administration in executive power is now, and has been for a while, common knowledge. But they also have added a note of contempt to it, just so Congress and the public know how much this White House resents them.