The White House has routinely denied that it had any role in advising the Department of Justice about Operation Fast and Furious. But the “surprising” assertion of executive privilege last week raises the question of whether that is still the case, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama.
There can only be two reasons why the White House chose to assert executive privilege over a number of department documents, the lawmaker indicated in his Monday letter.
“Either you or your most senior advisers were involved in managing Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it,” Issa wrote, ”Or, you are asserting a Presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”
Issa said last week’s contempt of Congress measure would not have advanced to the full House had Attorney General Eric Holder “actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.” He also requested the President indicate the ”universe” of documents over which the executive privilege order covers.
He also asked the president to indicate to what extent he and his most senior advisors were involved in Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout.
On Sunday, Issa and Ranking Member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Issa said he has no evidence the White House is involved in the Fast and Furious “cover-up.” A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that the assertion of privilege implied either the White House was involved in the operation or “the cover-up that followed.”
“Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?” he said.
Last week the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23-17 along party lines to advance the contempt measure against Holder, despite the president’s assertion of executive privilege over the Fast and Furious documents the committee is seeking with a subpoena. Holder has said that some of the documents at the center of the tussle between the department and the committee cannot be handed over because their disclosure could harm the integrity of ongoing investigations. The full House will vote on the resolution on Thursday.
Operation Fast and Furious was a botched gun-walking operation launched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s Office. Officials tracked thousands of guns across the Southwest border in an attempt to acquire evidence necessary to prosecute higher-ups in Mexican drug cartels. But the investigation backfired and hundreds of guns were lost. Two guns were found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry’s death. Terry died in a gunfight between Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits in 2010.
UPDATE: White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Tuesday morning that Issa’s challenge to Obama’s use of privilege is “absurd.”
“The congressman’s analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control. Our position is consistent with executive branch legal precedent for the past three decades,” Schultz told reporters. “The courts have routinely … affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved.”