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congressional access to executive branch information - legislative tools,

congressional access to executive branch information - legislative tools,

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Published by Chuck Achberger

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Published by: Chuck Achberger on May 26, 2011
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02/01/2013

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Congressional Research Service 
 
˜˜
 
The Library of Congress 
CRS Report for Congress
Received through theCRS Web
Order Code RL30966
Congressional Accessto Executive BranchInformation:Legislative Tools
May 17, 2001
Louis FisherSenior Specialist in Separation of PowersGovernment and Finance Division
 
Congressional Access to Executive Branch Information:Legislative Tools
Summary
Presidents and scholars identify a variety of constitutional principles and practicesto justify the withholding of documents and papers from Congress. No doubtreasonable grounds may be presented for withholding these materials and forpreventing some executive officials from testifying before congressional committees.However, these executive arguments are subject to legal and political limits. Executiveclaims can be offset by equally persuasive arguments that Congress needs access toinformation to fulfill its constitutional duties. In many cases, legal and constitutionalprinciples are overridden by the politics of the moment and practical considerations.Efforts to discover enduring and enforceable norms in this area invariably fall short.This report begins by reviewing the precedents established during the WashingtonAdministration for withholding documents from Congress. Close examination revealsthat the scope of presidential privilege is often exaggerated. Congress had access tomore documentation than is commonly believed and might have had more had itpressed for it. Subsequent sections focus on various forms of congressional leverage:the power of the purse, the power to impeach, issuing congressional subpoenas,holding executive officials in contempt, House resolutions of inquiry, GAOinvestigations, and blocking nominations, all of which may force executive officials torelease documents they would otherwise want to keep private and confidential. Evenif Presidents announce perfectly plausible grounds for withholding documents, theymay have to comply with the congressional will to achieve other more important goals.For a comprehensive CRS study of different techniques and authorities used byCongress to oversee executive branch activities, see “Congressional OversightManual,” CRS Report RL30240 (June 25, 1999). Legal and historical analysis onthese issues is covered by Morton Rosenberg, “Presidential Claims of ExecutivePrivilege: History, Law, Practice and Recent Developments,” CRS Report RS30319(September 21, 1999).
 
Contents
Establishing Constitutional Principles..................................1Robert Morris Inquiry.........................................2St. Clair Investigation.........................................3Diplomatic Correspondence with France...........................4The Appropriations Power..........................................5The Jay Treaty...............................................5The Louisiana Purchase........................................9Subsequent Treaty Disputes....................................10The Impeachment Power..........................................12The Appointment Power..........................................13Senate Holds.............................................13Kleindienst Nomination.......................................14Rehnquist for Chief Justice.....................................15Nomination of Trott..........................................16An Ambassadorial Position....................................16Environmental Crimes........................................17Congressional Subpoenas.........................................18Immunity..................................................19The
 Ashland 
Case...........................................19DOJ Documents: Seizing Suspects Abroad........................20DOJ Documents: The Inslaw Affair..............................21Whitewater Notes...........................................22The Contempt Power.............................................23Actions from 1975 to 1981....................................23Gorsuch Contempt...........................................28Contempt Move Against Quinn.................................29Contempt Action Against Reno.................................30House Resolutions of Inquiry.......................................31GAO Investigations..............................................32Testimony by White House Officials.................................35The Claim of National Security....................................38The AT&T Cases............................................39Proceedings Against Henry Kissinger.............................40The James Watt Episode......................................41CIA Whistleblowing..........................................43The Role of the Courts...........................................45The Pentagon Papers.........................................47

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