AG Holder Under Fire
Still smarting from setbacks a week ago, the Obama administration received another withering blow from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday when it voted 23 to 17 to favorably report a contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder was cited with contempt of Congress over statements made regarding Operation Fast and Furious, in which agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rather than confiscating illegally purchased weapons chose to track the weapons to the traffickers with the purpose of dismantling their networks.
The experiment went awry when agents lost track of the weapons and one of them apparently was used in the slaying of U.S. border agent Brian Terry.
Basically, Holder was cited with contempt for failing to turn over documents requested by the committee, though during the year and half investigation, the Justice Department reportedly submitted 7,600 documents, including details of Operation Fast and Furious.
But the furor arose because the Department at first denied the botched experiment of “gun walking” (tracking the illicit movement of the weapons) and this triggered a further investigation by the committee.
On the heels of the committee’s vote, President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold the documents the committee is seeking, documents that are generally off-limits to Congress.
“The president has asserted executive privilege,” wrote Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter to Issa. “We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests.”
Rep. Darrell lssa (R-Calif), chair of the committee, said Obama’s action was “an untimely” assertion of privilege.
On Tuesday, Holder and Issa met for 20 minutes without reaching any kind of resolution on the dispute.
Holder insisted that he would not turn over documents related to the gun-smuggling probe unless Issa consented to another congressional briefing on the Department’s material. He wanted some guarantee that the transfer of records would be enough to stand down the subpoena.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), appearing Wednesday evening on PBS’s Newshour in a debate with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), both of whom sit on the committee, took strong exception to the contempt charge.
“I think we have to look at the totality of the Constitution here,” he asserted. “Congress has a right to compel the production of papers and to compel witnesses before the committee. That’s an Article I right. At the same time, the administration, Article II, has the right under the Constitution to say, look, we’re invoking executive privilege — that doesn’t mean just the president, the executive branch privilege — and say, we’re not going to produce that for our own reasons.
“Now, the next step then would be to go to the court. And I would hope that, if we can not resolve this that the one concession that would be made is that we not pursue by resolution a criminal matter. We can pursue a civil matter, have a court make a decision, saying, OK, produce the documents, and then we come back to the court enforcing a resolution of Congress.”
The next move was the House of Representatives findng the Attorney General in contempt. This action is unprecedented in American history and could force further negotiations.