President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over the Fast and Furious documents at the center of a contempt of Congress vote against Attorney General Eric Holder today.
The assertion of privilege over congressionally subpoenaed documents was revealed shortly before the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began contempt proceedings.
A 10 a.m. vote on the contempt measure against Holder has proceeded as scheduled, however, even as news spreads that he asked Obama to use his privilege powers to exempt the department from handing over the subpoenaed documents, according to Politico. Despite this, committee Republicans signaled they would not stop in their attempt to compel Holder to hand over the documents.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif) and Holder met Tuesday night in a last-ditch effort to avoid the contempt vote Wednesday morning. The meeting did not yield any results, however, with Issa saying the Justice Department did not disclose the documents it said it would. Holder said Issa could not promise, even if the documents were released, that the contempt vote would be delayed.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been investigating the operation in the Senate, issued the following statement: “The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions. How can the President assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement? How can the President exert executive privilege over documents he’s supposedly never seen? Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme? The contempt citation is an important procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances. The questions from Congress go to determining what happened in a disastrous government program for accountability and so that it’s never repeated again.”
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, said the invocation of executive privilege raised questions.
“Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding Fast and Furious were confined to the Department of Justice. The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the Fast and Furious operation or the cover-up that followed,” Buck said.”The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”
The Justice Department says the documents in question cannot be released because they would compromise ongoing criminal investigations.
Fast and Furious was a failed gun-walking investigation headed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF aimed to track some-2,000 guns sold to straw-buyers in an attempt to gain intelligence as some firearms flowed to Mexico’s dangerous drug cartels. The operation backfired, however, and hundreds of guns were lost. Two were found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s death. Terry died in a shootout between Mexican bandits and Border Patrol agents in 2010.