WASHINGTON - JULY 26 - The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress today
to reaffirm itself as an equal branch of government and vote to hold White House
officials in contempt for refusing to cooperate with legitimate congressional
subpoenas. Calling this a constitutional crisis that threatens to destroy the
separation of powers, the ACLU reminded Congress that its oversight and
legislative role are vital.
"Presidents have tried in the past to overreach in claiming executive
privilege," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington
Legislative Office. "However, Congress has long served as a check to such abuses
of power, slapping the presidentís hand when needed and pursuing contempt or
enforcement actions that eventually resulted in the release of crucial
information. Todayís Congress must do the same if it wishes to remain a
meaningful and independent branch of government."
The ACLU rejected claims that Congressí responsibility to conduct oversight
or investigate executive misconduct was somehow less important than its
legislative function and therefore not worthy of compulsory enforcement.
Fredrickson added, "Itís do-or-die time for the separation of powers.
Congress is facing a historic moment when it can fight for its rightful place in
our Constitution or accept the presidentís continued and sweeping claims of
U.S. courts have long supported Congressí authority not only to pass laws,
but also to investigate their application. The courts have asserted that claims
of executive privilege are a potentially dangerous proposition that should only
be applied, and can only be upheld, under narrow circumstances. Such privilege
cannot be used as a means to hide government wrongdoing, and cannot stand in the
face of Congressí demonstrated need for the information.