State Rep. Jim Walsh announces release of impeachment-related documents

CENTRALIA — State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said last week he would be release records related to the drafting of gubernatorial impeachment documents after questions were raised about the use of legislative privilege.

The draft documents were never finalized or filed.

According to Walsh, while he believed an argument could be made for the use of legislative privilege, he believed it was best to release impeachment-related documents.

Some members of the Legislature have recently claimed legislative privilege and refused to release certain documents, even after losing a lawsuit on the matter to news outlets.

“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,” Walsh said.

Walsh argued legislative privilege could be considered necessary in the situation of impeachment in order to protect the Legislature’s power relative to the governor, but went on to say it would be better if both the legislative and executive branches moved away from the use of privilege.

“Of course, the project to draft articles of impeachment against the governor is an unusual example of how legislative privilege is used,” he stated. “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.”

Walsh’s fellow 19th Legislative District seatmate, state Sen. Jeff Wilson, provided a statement to The Chronicle on Walsh’s announcement. In his statement, Wilson emphasized the importance of following the law and court guidance while pointing to current litigation related to legislative privilege.

“It’s best to let our judicial system do its job, and refrain from further comment until this matter is resolved,” Wilson said.

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