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The Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal, largely downplayed by the mainstream media for months, can no long be contained. President Barack Obama granted an eleventh hour written request by his embattled Attorney General Eric Holder and invoked executive privilege, withholding documents and communications by administration officials that occurred after Feb. 4, 2011. Those communications have been subpoenaed by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who had warned Mr. Holder that he would be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn them over. On Wednesday, Issa made good on his promise. The Committee approved a resolution 23-17 along party lines, holding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress. The ruling will now go to the full House for a vote.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) issued an immediate statement:
Despite being given multiple opportunities to provide the documents necessary for Congress’ investigation into Fast and Furious, Attorney General Holder continues to stonewall. Today, the Administration took the extraordinary step of exerting executive privilege over documents that the Attorney General had already agreed to provide to Congress. Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week. If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue.
For more than a year, Mr. Issa gave Mr. Holder every opportunity to provide the information. Yet a 20-minute meeting Tuesday night produced nothing in the way of an agreement. Mr. Holder reportedly insisted he would be willing to brief the committee on documents detailing what the Justice Department knew about the program. He also agreed to turn over some of the additional documents Issa wanted. In return Mr. Issa would have to drop the contempt effort. Issa didn’t bite, saying he wanted to see the documents before deciding whether or not to proceed with the contempt vote.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and other Democrats claimed Mr. Holder never made such a demand, further contending that the AG had come to the meeting in “good faith” in the attempt to reach an agreement. Issa counter that Mr. Holder briefed the committee instead of providing the requested documents. Issa told Fox News that Holder didn’t provide “anything in writing.”
February 4th is critical because a letter written by the Justice Department (DOJ) on that date contended that there had never been a gunwalking program, an assertion the DOJ was forced to withdraw in November when it didn’t square with the facts in the case. Yesterday, the DOJ was forced to make a second retraction regarding Mr. Holder’s claim in a hearing last week that his Bush administration predecessor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about a gunwalking program called Operation Wide Receiver. The DOJ is now saying Mr. Holder “inadvertently” made that claim to the Committee. That Mr. Holder “inadvertently” made it while under oath is apparently irrelevant
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who started the Fast and Furious investigation eighteen months ago, minced no words regarding these so-called errors. “In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong,” Grassley wrote. “And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own Department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.”
Under wraps has now taken on a whole new meaning. Yesterday morning Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent a letter to Mr. Issa. “I write now to inform you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents,” it read. Thus, for the time being, the release of the subpoenaed documents has been effectively prevented by the White House.
Yet the exercise of executive privilege also brings a whole new dimension to the scandal. The Supreme Court has concluded that executive privilege pertains to communications directly with the president. Thus, its invocation inexorably leads to one of two conclusions: either the president himself is involved with Fast and Furious, or his administration intends to challenge the scope of 1974 Supreme Court decision limiting executive power.
Sen. Grassley illuminated that reality. “The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions,” he contended. “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,” he added.