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The administration’s actions reveal a strategy of promoting secrecy without resulting in the full-blown interbranch battles of the George W. Bush era. If the pattern evidenced so far in this controversy and several of the past Obama-era information disputes holds, then unless pushed to the limit, the president won’t claim executive privilege so he can avoid political fallout. The administration will likely continue to slow-walk or withhold requested information while dumping loads of nongermane documents to appear to be cooperating with the investigation.
Such a strategy has allowed the Obama administration to buy significant time against Congressional pressure to release certain documents. Doing so has enabled the administration to change the political narrative away from the accusations and more toward alleged legislative meddling and nitpicking over particular documents. Buying time also has had the effect of reducing media interest in the story, as demands for documents drag out and political Washington looks to other potential dramas.
Obama’s tactics are certainly much less directly confrontational than what occurred under Bush, who did not employ the rhetoric of running an open administration but rather emphasized the pre-eminence of the executive branch. Obama’s approach derives the benefits of executive pre-eminence while offering the appearance of being more open and accommodating even as his administration continues to stonewall.
Mitchel A. Sollenberger is assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Mark J. Rozell is professor of public policy at George Mason University. They are co-authors of “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.”