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Executive Privilege, RNC Style

The NYT reports that Sara Taylor will come before the SJC today and testify about some things.

Sara Taylor, the former White House political director, has agreed toanswer some questions as a “willing and cooperative private citizen,”during testimony about the United States attorney firings last yearwhen she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee later today.

But, as a former presidential adviser, she will also honor thepresident’s invocation of executive privilege to keep quiet about“White House consideration, deliberations, or communications, whetherinternal or external, relating to the possible dismissal or appointmentof United States attorneys,”according to a written copy of her opening statement provided by herlawyer’s office. Those parameters were set forth in a letter to Ms.Taylor’s attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, from the White House counsel,Fred F. Fielding.

Now, seeing as how the defining character of human beings is our ability to communicate, I don’t see how, if Sara Taylor refuses to testify about "communications, whether internal or external," we’re going to get much information. This news seems to support Kagro X’s argument–that they’re trying to muddy the waters about where contempt of Congress starts.

Though the power of the various subspecies of executive privilege to prevent witnesses — especially former WhiteHouse officials — from testifying is highly questionable, it’s worthnoting that the speculation about whether or not they’ll be held incontempt of Congress if they cite the privilege in refusing to answercertain questions (or even testify at all) has so far bypassed thequestion of what, exactly, constitutes contempt in the first place.

But we might not even have to answer that question directly — if there really is ananswer at all. Instead, ask yourself what happens if  these witnessesand others similarly situated come to the committees with the intent ofmaking them actually prove they were in contempt. Though contempt (forall its faults, at least under the statutory contempt process) is theobvious threat here, what if the witnesses simply show up, say wordswhen they’re asked questions, and then deny that they were talkinggibberish?

And speaking of muddying the waters–based on a pretty muddy letter from the White House, the RNC says that Congress can’t have its emails on the USA firings, either. I’ll return to this letter later–but I think BushCO is layering unsupportable claim on top of unsupportable claim. But heck, since the Dems in Congress didn’t try to knock the first false claims down, I’m not surprised the WH continues to get away with it.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a frustrating day, all around.

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Sara Taylor, Part II



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.