Friday, December 04, 2009

Separation of Power supporters - beware!

If a president will try to wrap up even his social secretary under the cloak of separation of powers, something is awry. While it hasn't yet gotten as far as the administration claiming the protection of executive privilege for Desiree Rogers to keep her from having to submit to embarrassing testimony before the House, her refusal to testify and Robert Gibbs' citation of separation of powers as a reason for her not to testify raises the question: if the White House will keep even a social secretary from having to testify before Congress, whom would they let testify?

Clearly, executive privilege wouldn't apply in the case of asking a social secretary why she was schmoozing with the guests instead of making sure that the Secret Service knew who was and wasn't on the guest list. As the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon, a president is entitled to keep his conversations with aides private recognizing that there is a
valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties; the importance of this confidentiality is too plain to require further discussion. Human experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interests to the detriment of the decisionmaking process.
But such a description doesn't apply to Desiree Rogers and her job as social secretary. The woman apparently got the job because she's a longtime friend and contributor to the Obamas. She enjoys the spotlight. But she isn't good at the job she's been given which is to be an unobtrusive manager of White House social functions. While not assigning aides to help the Secret Service, she broke protocol by seating herself as one of the invited guests.

But the White House is protecting this friend of Barack and the Democrats don't seem eager to challenge her refusal to testify.

While this story is overblown and congressional investigations are probably unnecessary since the Secret Service has done its own investigation and seems to be willing to take the bullet for the deficiencies of Desiree Rogers, the precedent of the White House invoking separation of powers as a defense to keep a social secretary from testifying should alarm anyone who complained about the Bush White House's assertion of executive privilege for what were, after all, aides involved in substantive decision-making, not party planning.