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Clinton Claims Executive Privilege on Anti-Drug Leadership Memo


November 1996

On October 1, the White House refused to turn over to Congress a 1995 memo sent to President Clinton from FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine (Peter Baker, "White House Claims Privilege on Drug Memo," Washington Post, October 2, 1996, p. A15; Associated Press, "Clinton Won't Give Drug Memo to Panel," New York Times, October 2, 1996, p. A12).

A House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee had subpoenaed the memo, but President Clinton refused to comply and claimed executive privilege to withhold the document. "Disclosure of the memorandum would contravene fundamental constitutional principles of separation of powers among the branches of our government," White House counsel Jack Quinn wrote in a letter to Representative Bill Zeliff (R-NH), who heads the House subcommittee. Republicans claim that the memo criticized the lack of "any true leadership" from the White House in the war against cocaine and heroin trafficking. A spokesman for the GOP-led House subcommittee said it was considering contempt of Congress proceedings (Peter Baker and Pierre Thomas, "GOP Steps Up Call for Drug Memo Release," Washington Post, October 3, 1996, p. A12; Adam Nagourney, "Dole Calls For Clinton to Release an F.B.I. Report on Drugs," New York Times, October 3, 1996, p. A20).

According to two administration officials who have read the memo, Freeh and Constantine did not criticize the President directly. Rather, they were commenting on the fragmentation of anti-drug efforts spread out among the DEA, FBI, Treasury Department, armed forces, and White House National Drug Control Policy Office. The letter proposed consolidating all anti-drug activities under the Justice Department. President Clinton said the memo argued that "the federal government had never been properly organized in terms of who had jurisdiction to do what in the drug war." Freeh "argued for a reallocation of authority," Clinton said (David S. Cloud, "Clinton denies drug memo is critical of his leadership," Chicago Tribune, October 6, 1996, s. 1, p. 3).

The request for the memo arose while Bob Dole was criticizing Clinton for rising teen drug use. "It reeks of guilt," said Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin, adding, "Bill Clinton should be ashamed of hiding behind the shield of executive privilege." White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry responded that the Republicans are on a fishing expedition to help Dole, and that "the issue is the ability of the president of the United States to have confidential conversations with senior officials of the government."

The refusal marks the fourth time that the Clinton White House has claimed executive privilege. Clinton had previously used the privilege in regards to requests for a document on Haiti and two documents related to the travel office affair.