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?”