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executive privilege

n. a claim by the President or another high official of the executive branch that he/she need not answer a request (including a subpena issued by a court or Congress) for confidential government or personal communications, on the ground that such revelations would hamper effective governmental operations and decision-making. The rationale is that such a demand would violate the principle of separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches. If there is a potential criminal charge, executive privilege will be denied, as Richard Nixon discovered when he attempted to use executive privilege to deny Congress, the courts and the Department of Justice access to tapes and documents in the Watergate scandal (1973-1974).


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