executive privilege, exemption of the executive branch of government, or its officers, from having to give evidence, specifically, in U.S. law, the exemption of the president from disclosing information to congressional inquiries or the judiciary. Claims of executive privilege are usually invoked to protect confidential military or diplomatic operations or to protect the private discussions and debates of the president with close aides. Efforts by various presidents since Eisenhower to gain absolute and unqualified privilege have been rejected by the courts, though they remain inclined to support most claims of executive privilege. Where criminal charges are being brought against a president, as in the case of Richard Nixon, the claims of executive privilege are weakest; during the process leading to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, numerous claims made by the White House were dropped when it was clear courts would not uphold them.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.