Well over a year ago, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department’s “gunwalking” program that resulted in thousands of guns illegally reaching the hands of criminal gangs in Mexico, resulting in many deaths (including that of at least one federal agent). Eric Holder and the Justice Department have stonewalled, turning over only about 3% of the subpoenaed materials.
The committee was supposed to vote today to cite the attorney general for contempt over the failure to turn the documents over. That vote has been postponed because, in the dark of the night last night, the Justice Department requested and the Obama White House granted, the invocation of executive privilege to justify withholding the material.
President Obama on Wednesday asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House panel ahead of a scheduled panel vote where Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to be held in contempt of Congress.
It's the first time Obama has used executive privilege since taking office. A White House aide said the president had gone longer without asserting the privilege in a congressional dispute than any other president in the last three decades.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said his panel was "evaluating" a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole asserting the privilege that arrived minutes before Issa's committee was to begin contempt proceedings. The vote was to take place Wednesday after a last-ditch effort to reach a deal over documents related to Operation Fast and Furious failed on Tuesday night.
In my opinion, the Committee should ignore this claim and continue its plan to cite Holder for contempt over his failure to turn over the subpoenaed documents. The invocation of executive privilege is spurious, and not based upon the sensitivity of the documents. There is no national security implication to the release of the documents, nor is there a reasonable claim that their release will hinder deliberations within the executive branch. What this claim does amount to is an argument by the Obama Administration that Congress may not act to oversee and/or regulate the actions of an executive branch department that appears to have engaged in actions in violation of existing federal law – actions that led to the deaths of American and Mexican citizens at the hands of criminals armed with guns that Justice Department officials knowingly allowed into the hands of those criminals.
More to the point, the timing of this invocation is quite suspect. The claim that the materials are privileged could have been invoked fifteen months ago. It could have been invoked six months ago. Instead, it is invoked mere hours prior to the committee vote on a contempt citation against the Attorney General for withholding the documents. – and in the midst of the presidential campaign. The delay and the timing make this appear to be a cover up by the Obama Administration and the president’s reelection campaign. So much for the transparency promised by Obama!
Given the bad faith shown by the Obama Administration since the issue of the subpoena, the committee ought not back down from the issuance of the contempt citation. Cite Eric Holder for contempt. Order his arrest. Let the Obama Administration argue in court that it is above the law and that neither Congress nor the Courts can provide oversight of its actions nor compel it to release documents under subpoena – and that Obama appointees are immune from the application of laws that apply to other American citizens. I’m sure that the “constitutional law professor” (actually a part-time non-tenure track adjunct faculty member) in the White House will be able to make the case every bit as effectively as he fixed the economy.
And have no doubt that this action by the Obama Administration is part and parcel of a cover up of wrongdoing. The New York Times reports that yesterday Holder met with Rep. Darrell Issa and other Congressional leaders, the head of the committee, and offered to “voluntarily” supply some of the subpoenaed documents that are today deemed to be too sensitive to release – but only if Issa agreed that the committee agreed to cease investigating Operation Fast and Furious before they knew the contents of the documents to be released! Even the blind can see that the Obama Administration is trying to hide wrong-doing from the American people and their elected representatives a desperate attempt to protect the president’s chances of being reelected.
UPDATE: There's a great post over at Sister Toldjah that explains why this claim of executive privilege is particularly troubling -- unless Barack Obama was in the loop on on authorizing and covering up Fast and Furious, it is does not meet the standard set by court precedents. So which is it? Is Barack Obama part of the operation that has killed US law enforcement personnel and Mexican citizens, or is he allowing an unfounded claim of privilege go forward to save his political skin?
The post also notes that allowing the weapons to go to these drug gangs could constitute an act of war with Mexico.