Just minutes before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee convened at 10 a.m. today to vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a subpoena for documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious, it was announced by the Justice Department that Eric Holder had requested and Barack Obama granted his request to assert executive priviledge.
Just last week, Eric Holder had said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was not asserting executive privilege in not providing the House Committee with documents requested. He has also testified that he has never spoken to the President about Operation Fast and Furious.
Nonetheless Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole sent a letter to Rep. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, reporting that Holder had asked Obama to assert executive privilege and that "the President has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents. The legal basis for the President's assertion of executive privilege is set forth in the enclosed letter to the President from the Attorney General. In brief, the compelled production to Congress of these internal Executive Branch documents generated in the course of the deliberative process concerning the Department's response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries would have significant, damaging consequences.... Such compelled disclosure would be inconsistent with the separation of powers established in the Constitution and would potentially create an imbalance in the relationship between these two co-equal branches of the Government."
In his letter to Obama Holder actually argues that the "Committee's asserted need for post-February 4 documents is further diminished by the Inspector General's ongoing investigation of Fast and Furious which was undertaken at my request. The existence of this investigation belies any supsicion that the Department is attempting to conceal important facts concerning Fast and Furious from the Committee. Moreover, in light of the Inspector General's investigaiton, congressional oversight is not the only means by which the management of the Department's response to Fast and Furious may be scrutinized."
Just as Eric Holder previously argued that due process does not necessarily mean judicial process in defense of the President's policy of assassinating American citizens, in this case apparently congressional oversight is not necessary if the administration investigates itself.
The President himself, who is the only one who can make the assertion of executive privilege, had not communicated his assertion to the Committee at the time that the Committee convened.
The response to the President's assertion was rapid. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said the assertion raises "monumental questions. 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?"
During the committee hearings, Rep. Dan Burton said: "The president's assertion of executive privilege creates more questions. 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. And now that brings into question whether Eric Holder knew about it and how much the President knew about it. 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?"
House Speaker John A. Boehner, questioned the White House's claim of executive privilege. His press secretary, Brendan Buck said that until now "everyone believed that the decisions regarding Fast and Furious were confined to the Department of Justice. 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 th truth?"
Judge Andrew Napolitano said: "If the Attorney General discussed this with President, he probably doesn't want the Congress and the public to know that because we know about the awful events that occurred as a result of the Fast and Furious escapade. The last time this happened — 40-years-ago in the Nixon Watergate saga, a federal judge ruled against the President and the Supreme Court upheld his ruling. We may see this going in that direction now. They can't have it both ways. If the President was not personally involved, executive privilege does not apply."
The Ulsterman Report White House Insider said: "The use of Executive Privilege by the Obama White House makes a direct tie to the administraiton now. The perception of that is now the reality of it. Obama owns Fast and Furious. He can't walk that back. It's his. He is telling Congress he won't hand over docs. The line in the sand was placed there by the President himself."