Obama asserts executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents pertaining to Operation Fast and Furious. The move followed Attorney General Eric Holder’s last-second request for him to do so, ahead of a scheduled House oversight committee vote to begin contempt of Congress proceedings against Holder.

Obama granted the 11th-hour request after negotiations between Holder and the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, fell apart again on Tuesday evening after a 20-minute meeting. Holder had agreed beforehand that he would provide internal DOJ documents to Issa ahead of the meeting. He did not bring the documents. On Tuesday evening, Issa gave him one final chance to provide the documents before the 10 a.m. scheduled vote to hold Holder in contempt.

Holder again did not provide the documents to Congress. Then, on Wednesday morning, minutes before the meeting, it was announced Obama had agreed to assert executive privilege over those documents.

Appearing on Fox News shortly after the announcement, Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert said the next steps are for Congress to move forward with contempt proceedings. According to Fox News, Issa’s committee is expected to move forward with the contempt proceeding.

Ranking member Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said the assertion of executive privilege doesn’t block the committee from access to all documents, only some.

“As I understand it, the assertion does not cover everything in this category, such as whistleblower documents, and the administration has indicated that it remains willing to try to come to a mutual resolution despite its formal legal assertion,” Cummings said. “As a member of Congress, I treat assertions of executive privilege very seriously, and I believe they should be used only sparingly.  In this case, it seems clear that the administration was forced into this position by the committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the attorney general’s good faith offer.”

The Hill reported that this is the first time Obama has ever asserted the executive privilege.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said this assertion raises more questions than answers.

“The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions,” Grassley said. “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.”

Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, a former chair of the oversight committee for six years, said Issa has been “patient.” He said the president’s decision to assert executive privilege to withhold documents makes him wonder if Obama knew of Fast and Furious.

“The attorney general has asserted on numerous occasions that he didn’t know about this, now the president of the United States has claimed executive privilege,” Burton added. “And now that brings into question how much Holder knew about this, and that the president knew about this. My question is, who knew about this, how high up did it go, did it go to the attorney general or president of the united states and when did they know about this?”

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she was “horrified” that Issa was moving forward with contempt proceedings after Obama asserted the executive privilege. She accused Issa of conducting a “political witch hunt” against Holder.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash tweeted that Obama’s assertion of executive privilege means Fast and Furious “must rise all the way to Pres. Obama.”

“Stunning admission by White House,” Amash tweeted.

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told The Daily Caller that President Obama’s claim of executive privilege implies a startling new allegation pertaining to Fast and Furious: The White House was either involved with the operation or a cover-up.

“Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding ‘Fast and Furious’ were confined to the Department of Justice,” Steel said in an email. “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. The Administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”

Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz said “it’s sad” and “it’s disappointing” that this scandal has “come to this.”

“This isn’t about Holder, this is about the Department of Justice and justice in the United States of America,” Chaffetz said. “I hope we have the guts and the perseverance to get to the bottom of this. We have 2,000 weapons purposely given to drug cartels. We have a moral obligation to get to the bottom of this.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — a GOP presidential candidate this year who dropped out of the race earlier this year — tweeted that Obama broke his promises of a transparent administration. “Transparency?” Santorum tweeted. “Yet another Obama promise broken as his administration invokes executive privilege in Fast and Furious.”

Florida Republican Rep. Allen West posted on his Facebook wall that he thinks “[t]here seems to be no line President Obama will not cross in his plan to save himself and his cronies.”

“First the ‘Executive order’  to allow illegal immigrants to compete with American jobs, now an ‘Executive privilege’ to save Eric Holder from information that Americans deserve to see,” West said.

“An American Border Patrol Agent and hundreds of Mexican citizens have lost their lives because of Operation Fast and Furious,” West added. “The President’s arrogance in not understanding the rule of law and the fundamental premise of separation of powers is reflective of his narcissistic manner and it is harmful to this nation. Americans are disgusted by this and will say so the most conducive way they know how, come November.”

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy  said the “assertion of executive privilege is legally compromised and calculated solely to delay Congress from exercising its constitutional responsibility to provide oversight.”

“The President claims he knew nothing about Fast and Furious prior to Agent Brian Terry’s murder and no one at the Department of Justice has suggested the President was part of the drafting of a demonstrably false letter dated February 4, 2011, to a committee of congress,” Gowdy said before laying out a serious of questions to Obama himself:

“So, my question to the President is: What are you asserting privilege over? Did you know about Fast and Furious before Brian Terry’s murder? Did you approve the operation? Did you participate in the drafting of a false letter to congress? Unless the answer to all of those questions is yes, there is no matter over which the President can assert privilege. It is merely the latest ploy to delay the investigation.”

This is a developing story…

UPDATE: Another retraction: Holder withdraws claim that Bush’s attorney general knew about gunwalking

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Matthew Boyle