Rep. Jim Walsh issues statement regarding legislative privilege

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, has issued the following statement regarding legislative privilege.

The 19th District lawmaker recently authorized the release of emails, text messages, and other communication produced while drafting gubernatorial impeachment documents.

“It has come to my attention that my project to draft articles of impeachment of the governor has been drawn into the growing controversy over the use of 'legislative privilege' in Olympia.

“I have ordered House staff to release all relevant documents related to the impeachment project. While I could make a legitimate argument for legislative privilege on this project, of all projects, I believe this is the best step forward at this time.

“It's important to point out that the articles of impeachment we considered never reached a final form — and were never filed.

“The debate about the existence and use of legislative privilege is a useful one. I hope it leads to more and greater transparency in Washington state government. Modern technology should allow members of the legislative branch to protect their constituents' privacy rights and sensitive information by the smart, targeted use of redaction without having to fall back on legislative privilege.

“Of course, the project to draft articles of impeachment against the governor is an unusual example of how legislative privilege is used. In that situation, the claim wasn't intended to hide documents from the public; it was intended to protect important strategy and details from the executive branch. It's already difficult to maintain proper, constitutional checks and balances in Olympia. Allowing the executive branch to see the Legislature's preliminary work on an impeachment effort would give an inequitable advantage to the executive branch.

“In this context, a reasonable person might conclude that — to maintain equity and balance — the legislative branch needs a version of 'executive privilege' that the executive branch maintains. That would be fair. But it would also be fair to hold that neither branch should be able to claim 'privilege.' All things considered, that's the direction we in Olympia should move.

“And that's the reason I've instructed staff to release all of my records related to the project to draft articles of impeachment against the governor.”

The 105-day 2023 legislative session began on Monday, Jan. 9.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov