White House spins Fast and Furious scandal

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday portrayed the GOP-led investigation of Operation Fast and Furious as political theater, and aggressively pushed back with a demand that Congress approve President Barack Obama’s proposed laws.

“This is about politics — it is not about an effort to divine the truth in a serious manner,” he told reporters at the midday briefing, where he was grilled by ABC’s Jake Tapper and Fox’s Ed Henry about the controversial Fast and Furious operation.

Under the operation, law enforcement officials let roughly 2,000 military-style weapons be sold to Mexican drug cartels, and top Justice Department officials mislead congressional investigators.

“This has become a political fishing expedition… to score political points in an election year,” he claimed, even though the government-backed gun-running operation is implicated in the death of a few hundred Mexicans and a two U.S. law enforcement officers.

“At a time when Congress could be passing a bill tomorrow that would keep a million construction workers on the job… to ensure that teachers would not be laid off… to provide access historically low mortgage-interest rates to Americans across the country during a period where we’re still very much recovering,” he claimed.

Members of the public “do not expect Congress to waste time on a political motivated fishing expedition,” Carney said.

Carney tried to spin the controversy to credit Attorney General Eric Holder for ending a tactic that was first used by lower-level officials during the administration of George W. Bush. “The practice began in the previous administration, and it was ended in this one,” he claimed.

The administration has provided 7,600 pages of documents to congressional investigators, he said, but he declined to say how many documents officials were holding back from investigators.

Reportedly, only 10 percent of relevant documents has been shared with investigators.

All relevant documents have been given to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, insisted Carney. The documents held back under “executive privilege” were approved by Justice Department staff, he said.

However, Obama appointed the IG and the department’s top staff.

The document hold-back is the president’s first claim of executive privilege, which protects the president’s office from congressional prying, said Carney.

President George W. Bush cited privilege six times, and President Bill Clinton used it 14 times, he said.

Carney denied that the White House was hiding documents to avoid political damage, and said he is merely protecting presidents from current and future unconstitutional prying by members of Congress.

“This is entirely about principle,” he said, prompting laughter from reporters.

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Neil Munro