FOREIGN OPERATIONS AND GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SUBCOMMITTEE
OF THE COMMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
March 31, 1965
HON. LYNDON B. JOHNSON
President of the United States
The White House
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
The use of the claim of "Executive privilege" to withhold Government information
from the Congress and the public is an issue of importance to those who
recognize the need for a fully informed electorate and for a Congress operating
as a coequal branch of the Federal Government.
In a letter dated May 7, 1954, President Eisenhower used the "Executive
privilege" claim to refuse certain information to a Senate subcommittee.
In a letter dated February 8, 1962, President Kennedy also refused information
to a Senate subcommittee. There the similarity ends for the solutions of
"Executive privilege" problems varied greatly in the two administrations.
Time after time during his administration, the May 17, 1954 letter from
President Eisenhower was used as a claim of authority to withhold information
about Government activities. Some of the cases during the Eisenhower administration
involved important matters of Government, but in the great majority of
cases executive branch employees far down the administrative line from
the President claimed the May 17, 1954, letter as authority for withholding
information about routine developments. A report by the House Committee
on Government Operations lists 44 cases of executive branch officials refusing
information on the basis of the principles set forth in President Eisenhower’s
President Kennedy carefully qualified use of the claim of "Executive privilege."
In a letter of February 8, 1962, refusing information to a Senate subcommittee,
he stated that the "principle which is at stake here cannot be automatically
applied to every request for information." Later, President Kennedy clarified
his position on the claim of "Executive privilege," stating that -
As a result of President Kennedy’s clear statement, there was no longer
a rash of "Executive privilege" claims to withhold information from the
Congress and the public. I am confidant you share my views on the importance
to our form of government of a free flow of information and I hope you
will reaffirm the principle that "Executive privilege" can be invoked by
you alone and will not be used without your specific approval.
* * this administration has gone to great lengths to achieve full cooperation
with the Congress in making available to it all appropriate documents,
correspondence, and information. That is the basic policy of the administration;
and it will continue to be so. Executive privilege can be invoked only
by the President and will not be used without specific Presidential approval.
S/ JOHN E. MOSS, CHAIRMAN