Obama to Holder: I’ve Got Your Back
In response to a letter received from Attorney General Eric Holder late yesterday, President Obama has taken the questionable path of asserting executive privilege to preclude the Department of Justice from having to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
From Holder’s letter to Obama:
The Committee’s subpoena broadly sweeps in various groups of documents relating to both the conduct of Operation Fast and Furious and the Department’s response to congressional inquiries about that operation. In recognition of the seriousness of the Committee’s concerns about both the inappropriate tactics used in Fast and Furious and the inaccuracies concerning the use of those tactics in the letter that the Department sent to Senator Grassley on February 4, 2011 (“February 4 Letter”), the Department has taken a number of significant steps in response to the Committee’s oversight. First, the Department has instituted various reforms to ensure that it does not repeat these law enforcement and oversight mistakes. Second, at my request the Inspector General is investigating the conduct of Fast and Furious. And third, to the extent consistent with important Executive Branch confidentiality and separation of powers interests affected by the Committee’s investigation into ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as applicable disclosure laws, the Department has provided a significant amount of information in an extraordinary effort to accommodate the Committee’s legitimate oversight interests, including testimony, transcribed interviews, briefings and other statements by Department officials, and all of the Department’s internal documents concerning the preparation of the February 4 Letter.
The Committee has made clear that its contempt resolution will be limited to internal Department “documents from after February 4, 2011, related to the Department’s response to Congress.” Letter for Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General, from Darrell E. Issa, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives at 1-2 (June 13, 2012) (“Chairman’s Letter”). I am asking you to assert executive privilege over these documents. They were not generated in the course of the conduct of Fast and Furious. Instead, they were created after the investigative tactics at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department’s deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation.
The bold emphasis is mine and speaks directly to the bigger questions raised by the President’s actions.
At issue is not just what happened during the Fast and Furious operation itself but what occurred within the Justice Department, and possibly the White House, “in the course of the Department’s deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation”.
In simple speak, Holder is saying that it’s acceptable for Congress and the public to know about their investigatory practices of the Fast and Furious operation. However anything related to the internal processes that looked at who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did with the information they had is off limits to Congress and the public.
By asserting the aforementioned executive privilege President Obama has now taken certain ownership of the entire mess. There is a similarity to the President asserting executive privilege and a defendant asserting their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Both acts tend to raise more questions than previously existed and cast a pall of guilt over the proceedings.
If Holder or other senior personnel were involved in the post investigation strategizing of how to respond to Congress and determining what the public was entitled to know, then the documents requested are clearly applicable in the interest of transparency and full-disclosure.
Transparency was a tenet that Senator Obama specifically campaigned on in 2008, but he seems to have forgotten about that promise given his actions this morning.
From a political sense, if things go badly here and it becomes public knowledge that there was anything that even looks like a cover-up, then Obama will have covered Holder’s back but with his own head.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: For more information about Fast and Furious stemming all the way back to the beginning, I suggest you follow Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) and Mary Chastain (@MaryChastain) on Twitter, and for more insight into the events of the last 24 hours or so read Attorney General Holder to Face Contempt Vote? by Thomas L. and Famous Quotes From Democrats on Executive Privilege by Tommy, here at The Right Sphere.