Executive Privilege in the Ford Administration: Prudence in the Exercise of Presidential Power

By Rozell, Mark J. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Executive Privilege in the Ford Administration: Prudence in the Exercise of Presidential Power


Rozell, Mark J., Presidential Studies Quarterly


The Watergate crisis brought the doctrine of executive privilege--which recognizes the right of the president to withhold information from the coordinate branches of government--to the forefront of political discourse in the United States. Although presidents for years had exercised some form of that controversial power, no single event had ever had such an impact on the exercise of executive privilege.

President Richard M. Nixon's extreme claims of executive privilege--based on his unsupported argument that executive privilege is an unrestricted presidential power that cannot be challenged by another branch of government--had the effect of giving a bad name to that doctrine.(1) In the post-Watergate years, Congress has become vigilant in its efforts to challenge presidential claims of executive privilege through the use of public hearings to shape public opinion, the subpoena power, contempt of Congress charges, and litigation. When it comes to executive privilege, the post-Watergate presidents have had to operate in the shadow of Richard M. Nixon.

This article examines the use of executive privilege in the Gerald Ford administration. Drawing primarily from Ford White House documents, I show how Ford tried to manage executive privilege controversies in the immediate post-Watergate years when, for many people, the phrase executive privilege had become synonymous with Nixonian abuses of power.

The Ford years represent an important transitional stage in the modern presidency. As he was the first post-Watergate president, members of Congress and the media vigorously challenged Ford's authority and veracity, even though such challenges were more suited to his predecessor. To be sure, his candor and efforts to lead an "open presidency" did much to move the nation beyond the cynicism and rancor of the Nixon years. Nonetheless, many members of Congress and political commentators believed that an important lesson of the Nixon years was that power in the hands of the executive leads to abuses of authority. Congress embarked on an unprecedented reform effort to invigorate its own authority in the separation of powers system and to limit the exercise of presidential powers. Congress also embarked on unprecedented investigations into the activities of the U.S. intelligence community.

It was against this backdrop that a number of executive privilege controversies arose during the Ford years. As the following analysis of White House documents shows, Ford crafted a strategy of making the occasional withholding of information possible by avoiding adopting a formal policy on executive privilege, avoiding the much maligned phrase executive privilege as much as possible, and citing statutory authority instead of presidential prerogatives as the basis for keeping secrets. That strategy was prudent, given Congress's post-Watergate efforts to vigorously challenge presidential claims and exercises of independent powers. Ford understood that politically he would fail in his efforts to withhold information if he adopted a strategy of publicly defending presidential prerogatives. He chose instead to manage access to information disputes on a case-by-case basis and avoid drawing attention to the controversial doctrine of executive privilege. Consequently, Ford carefully chose only a few executive privilege battles with Congress--ones that he considered to be the most important secrecy issues in his administration and that he thought he could win.

The White House documents reveal that, although Ford pledged to conduct an "open presidency," his actions were calculated to protect the institutionalized secret presidency. Consequently, despite a widespread perception after Watergate that profound change in the operation of the presidency had occurred, Ford projected the image of openness and change while crafting a strategy to protect presidential powers and maintain continuity.

Ford's "Policy" toward Executive Privilege

Ford's immediate predecessors--John F. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Executive Privilege in the Ford Administration: Prudence in the Exercise of Presidential Power
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.