From Charlie Savage’s NYT report on President Obama’s assertion of Executive Privilege as the basis for the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over internal agency documents concerning the “Fast and Furious” scandal to a house oversight committee:
The invocation of executive privilege by Mr. Obama added a new element to the drama. While there is little dispute that the privilege covers communications made directly to the president and among his White House advisers, it is far less clear that the privilege trumps Congress’s right to subpoena internal communications within an agency. . .
A White House spokesman cited several examples of Republican presidents asserting executive privilege to withhold agency documents not involving presidential communications.
Still, Mr. Obama appeared to adopt a narrower view of executive privilege during the 2008 campaign. Then a senator, Mr. Obama was asked by The Boston Globe whether he believed that executive privilege covered documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president.
He replied: “With respect to the ‘core’ of executive privilege, the Supreme Court has not resolved this question, and reasonable people have debated it. My view is that executive privilege generally depends on the involvement of the president and the White House.”
House Republicans adopted a more limited view of executive privilege as requiring White House involvement, suggesting it was a victory for their side either way.
For more background on recent assertions of Executive Privilege and those few cases in which courts have wrestled with the doctrine, some may be interested in this this CRS report from 2008.
UPDATE: At Monkey Cage, Andrew Rudalevige summarizes the development and use of Executive Privilege in recent administrations.