by Dave Workman
The full House of Representatives may vote on whether to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for Contempt of Congress sometime during the final week of June, but now that President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over subpoenaed documents, it appears a confrontation is imminent between Congress and the White House.
Holder asked the president for executive privilege protection after he met with Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley June 19. Fireworks erupted when Holder, after suggesting he might provide some documents to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, instead only offered Issa and Grassley a briefing on what is in the documents in exchange for an end to the contempt proceeding. Both Issa and Grassley said that offer was a non-starter. They wanted the documents.
The president’s last-minute leap into the middle of the Operation Fast and Furious is seen by some observers as a well-timed strategic move to bog down the investigation – and prevent further revelations that may be embarrassing to the White House – until after the November election. Critics including Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Indiana Congressman Dan Burton have questioned what may be in the documents that President Obama doesn’t want the public to see.
After all, as noted by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) during the heated committee debate, if there is nothing in those documents to link the White House directly to the scandal, then why claim privilege?
In an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, Issa put it bluntly: “We were asked to take a pig in a poke…I think they knew we couldn’t accept that. Brian Terry’s family couldn’t accept that. The American people couldn’t accept that.”
Just 45 minutes before the Oversight Committee began debate on the contempt citation June 20, Issa received notification that the White House had invoked executive privilege on the subpoenaed documents. That announcement ignited a firestorm in the committee, and across the airwaves as debate erupted between Obama administration defenders and those demanding full disclosure on the gun walking operation.
Democrats seemed to quickly retreat to the “Bush did it” defense, noting that former President George W. Bush invoked executive privilege at least a half-dozen times during his administration. Republicans quickly dredged up an embarrassing video of then-Sen. Obama blasting Bush during a March 19, 2007 interview with CNN’s Larry King for claiming executive privilege.
“There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration,” Obama said at the time, “to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there’s something a little shaky taking place. The administration would be best served by coming clean on this.”
The Oversight Committee’s 23-17 vote was split rigidly along party lines, with Democrats circling the wagons around Holder and the president’s executive privilege claim.
Still, the documents remain out of reach for the committee, and that is troubling.
For 18 months since Grassley launched the initial Fast and Furious probe to find out how guns from Fast and Furious wound up at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, the White House had insisted it had no prior knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious, and did not approve it. By taking that position, the White House was able to keep some distance between the scandal and the Oval Office.
By raising the stakes with executive privilege, the president inserted himself right into the middle of the controversy. That surprised many people, because it elevated the dispute between Issa and Holder over the Fast and Furious documents to the highest level possible, and opened the door to speculation that there must be something in those documents that could cause considerable embarrassment to Holder, or even the president. But until the documents are actually read, nobody could know that for sure.
Gowdy, in an interview one day after the Oversight Committee vote, told Fox News that, “There’s something in those documents that the Department of Justice or the White House doesn’t want us to have.”
“I don’t know who they’re protecting or what they’re protecting,” Gowdy said.
He suggested that Obama and Holder might be trying to provide cover for Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s criminal division.
“His fingerprints are all over Fast and Furious,” Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, stated.
House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Kantor held out some hope that a crisis could be avoided if the attorney general provided an acceptable compromise prior to a contempt vote by the full House. However, the odds of a compromise get lower as the clock ticks down to the House vote.