THE WHITE HOUSE[...]
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
December 13, 2001
Q: Could I ask about executive privilege, which the President is exerting in terms of the oversight of prosecutors? Previous Presidents, not always cheerfully, but previous Presidents have allowed these documents to go to Congress so they can exercise oversight of prosecutors. What's changed that this President doesn't think that's right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, I differ with that premise. Previous Presidents -- President Reagan three times exerted executive privilege, and President Clinton four times. So it is not uncommon.
The reason President Bush in this case exerted executive privilege was to protect the effectiveness and the deliberativeness of the justice process. In this case, where after the administration had already turned over 3,500 pages to the House committee in question, they continued to pressure the administration to obtain very specific prosecutorial decision-making memoranda that are the heart of the justice process, the heart of the deliberative process the contains uncorroborated, raw information, raw data that prosecutors weigh to decide whether or not to bring a case forward. And often, especially when a case is not brought forward, release of that information could be harmful to the people in question, when a decision is made never to proceed with the prosecution.
And so, as a desire to protect the privacy of these conversations, the President viewed the attempt to obtain these documents as an attempt that would inhibit the candor necessary to have an effective process of deliberation, as well as a risk to politicizing internal, important judicial, Justice Department decisions. Because if the Justice Department is required to turn these documents over to Congress, it can apply political pressure to a process that should be guided only by law, the rule of law and prosecutors recommendations.
Q: -- that both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill as saying that this makes oversight of prosecutors impossible now.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why I pointed out to you that 3,500 pages have been provided. But there has been a precedent, and it's well-established, about protection of certain documents that should not be politicized and deserve to be kept private. I would turn that exactly around and say that if documents like this were to be provided by Congress, they would have a chilling effect on the Justice Department's ability to carefully weigh matters of prosecution to decide in which cases prosecution should be or should not be brought.