UPDATE: Tony Snow Backs ‘Executive Privilege’ Now — But Hit It Back in Clinton Era

By: E&P Staff

With the crisis over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys mounting, President Bush and his spokesman Tony Snow have roundly embraced the concept of “executive privilege” to deny Congress and testimony and documents from key White House insiders. But Snow was singing a different tune during the Clinton era, when a president claimed the same during the Lewinsky scandal.

Glenn Greenwald, who now blogs for Salon, has located a Snow column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from March 29, 1998, back in his days as a newspaper pundit. Snow wrote then:

“Evidently, Mr. Clinton wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.

“Chances are that the courts will hurl such a claim out, but it will take time.

“One gets the impression that Team Clinton values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public’s faith in Mr. Clinton will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold — the rule of law.”

At his press briefing today, Snow was asked about all this. The exchange follows.

Q So Tony, back when President Clinton was citing executive privilege to keep internal deliberations in that White House from being talked about in Congress, you wrote now famously that —

MR. SNOW: I’m glad it was famous. I didn’t get that kind of coverage at the time. (Laughter.)

Q It’s become more famous —

MR. SNOW: Oh, is it making its way through the left-wing blog?

Q It is.


Q No, no. But you spoke — you wrote quite eloquently about this. You said, “Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold the chief executive accountable.”

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q “We would have a constitutional right to a cover-up.”

MR. SNOW: Right. Now let me —

Q So why were you wrong then and right now?

MR. SNOW: Because you’re — this is a not entirely analogous situation. I just told you what we have in fact offered to make available to members of Congress. What we are doing is we are holding apart confidential communications between advisers and the president, and that is pretty standard practice in White Houses. But again —

Q It wasn’t with the Clinton administration.

MR. SNOW: Well, I’m not so sure. And I’ll let others do the legal arguing on that.

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