Privileged e-mails?

Sorry, executive privilege doesn't cover First Gentleman

September 13, 2008 

Gov. Sarah Palin is using flimsy grounds for withholding potentially embarrassing e-mails from a political supporter-turned-critic.

Former Republican candidate Andree McLeod has appealed the governor's decision to withhold or redact some e-mails and other state records. She's seeking the records in a dispute about the Palin administration's recruiting and hiring decisions. KTUU has reported that some of the withheld e-mails have subject lines referring to Palin critics Andrew Halcro, Dan Fagan and Alaska Ear.

From here it looks like McLeod has a strong case.

First, she argues that the governor's office waived executive privilege for any state e-mails sent to Todd Palin, Gov. Palin's husband.

With all due respect to the First Gentleman, he wasn't elected to anything and as far as we know, hasn't been appointed to anything. He's a private citizen. If he's on the e-mail list for state business, those e-mails become public information. The law protects some communications between government officials -- not communications between government officials and private citizens.

The reason is simple. The executive branch shouldn't be able to use executive privilege to hide correspondence between government officials and private special interests, from corporate interests to spousal interests.

Second, McLeod argues that any e-mails sent to the governor's office from private citizens also can't be covered by executive privilege. Again, this seems consistent with the law.

Less clear is McLeod's argument against executive privilege for e-mails sent to or from the governor's private e-mail account from or to official state e-mail accounts. We can imagine the court applying the privilege in this case, but courts also have ruled that executive privilege must be narrowly construed, with doubts resolved in favor of public disclosure.

Finally, Ms. McLeod argues that the governor's office has failed to explain -- as required by law -- why some documents are being held or redacted. That explanation is an unavoidable obligation. The governor's office can't simply invoke executive privilege and leave it at that.

McLeod's dispute with Gov. Palin is, like everything about the governor now, drawing wide attention because she's running for vice president. A dispute like this -- involving a disgruntled job seeker -- is often compelling only to the parties involved.

But the Palin administration can't call for transparency and then duck and cover and expect to be taken seriously.

The Palin administration has to follow the law, even if it means releasing some e-mails that might be politically embarrassing.

BOTTOM LINE: Governor takes executive privilege too far.


Who's up / Who's down

DOWN Sen. Stevens: Uncle Ted loses bid to have corruption charges thrown out on constitutional grounds. He'll have to settle for a speedy trial.

EVEN Sen. Hollis French: Former prosecutor trips over tongue about Troopergate, but remains project director. Mum's the word.

UP Alaskans: First wave of PFDs and resource rebates fall into bank accounts. Like golden autumn leaves, eh?

DOWN Natural gas consumers: Enstar rates going up 22 percent. That's right, double-deuce with no decimal point. There goes the resource rebate.

UP Ralph Nader: 21st century's answer to Harold Stassen makes Alaska presidential ballot. Oh, the joy.

UP You-know-who: Still riding high on sudden national fame two weeks later. Bush doctrine? Who cares.

DOWN You-know-who's spouse: First Gentleman faces a subpoena in Troopergate. No executive privilege there.

DOWN Alaska drivers: Gas prices still higher than the rest of the country. Why? Leggies are told, "It's the refineries, stupid."

DOWN Eddie Burke: Pro-Palin radio jock sics angry listeners on organizers of anti-Palin protest. Typical.

UP Salmon sharks: Eco-conscious skippers pitch catch-and-release for clients. Careful how you hold 'em before you let 'em go.

DOWN Alaskans: It's official. Summer was gray and cold. So's fall. Is that Hawaii calling? Or Cabo? Aw, we'll settle for Boise.

UP Berry pickers: It seemed like the blueberries and raspberries would never come during this chilly summer, but they did, and pickers got an unusual September extension. Jam on.

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