Issa Slams Obama Over Fast and Furious Executive Privilege
Vote Thursday would be first time sitting U.S. attorney general is cited for contempt of Congress
CNN Wire Staff
June 26, 2012(CNN) -- The head of a House committee slammed President Barack Obama's assertion of executive privilege in the panel's probe of the Fast and Furious gun running sting and implored the president to rethink his move.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa made the remarks in a letter to the president dated Monday, as the House gets ready to vote this week on a contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder.
The committee recommended the vote after Holder refused to hand over all of the requested documents in its investigation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' controversial sting.
The vote came after Obama asserted executive privilege over some documents sought by the panel. The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold some of the documents.
The ATF launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapons purchases by Mexican drug cartels.
However, it has been widely criticized after it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Issa said Obama's assertion of executive privilege means that he and his most senior advisers were involved in "managing" Fast and Furious and the "fallout from it" or that the president asserted a power he knows is unjustified "for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."
"To date, the White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the (Justice) Department with respect to the congressional investigation. The surprising assertion of executive privilege raised the question of whether that is still the case," Issa said in his letter.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Tuesday Issa's analysis "has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control" and he defended the White House stance.
"Our position is consistent with Executive Branch legal precedent for the past three decades spanning administrations of both parties, and dating back to President Reagan's Department of Justice. The courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved."
The House vote on the contempt resolution, expected Thursday, would be the first time in history a sitting U.S. attorney general is cited for contempt of Congress, a GOP leadership aide told CNN Monday.
"I urge you to reconsider the decision to withhold documents that would allow Congress to complete its investigation," Issa, R-California, said in the letter. "I remain hopeful that the Attorney General will produce the specified documents so that we can work towards resolving this matter short of a contempt citation."
There has been a showdown between Issa and Holder over the Fast and Furious program, which dates back to subpoenas issued by the House committee last year.
Issa's panel has been seeking documents that show why the Justice Department decided to withdraw as inaccurate a February 2011 letter sent to Congress that said top officials had only recently learned about the Fast and Furious operation. However, Holder has refused to turn over materials containing internal deliberations, and asked Obama to assert executive privilege over such documents last week.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has called the Republican investigation a "politically-motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Republicans are targeting Holder because he is fighting their efforts to suppress voter turnout in November.
But Issa said the assertion of executive privilege "raises more questions than it answers."
Issa said he met with Holder June 19 to resolve the issue before the committee's contempt vote. He said Holder wanted to "buy peace."
"He indicated a willingness to produce the 'fair compilation' of post-February 4th documents. He told me that he would provide the 'fair compilation' of documents on three conditions: (1) that I permanently cancel the contempt vote; (2) that I agree the Department was in full compliance with the Committee's subpoenas, and; (3) that I accept the 'fair compilation,' sight unseen," Issa said.
He called Holder's conditions "unacceptable."
"The Attorney General's conditional offer of a 'fair compilation' of a subset of documents covered by the subpoena, and your assertion of executive privilege, in no way substitute for the fact that the Justice Department is still grossly deficient in its compliance with the Committee's subpoena. By the Department's own admission, it has withheld more than 130,000 pages of responsive documents," he said.
Issa stressed the importance of forging a settlement rather than pursuing contempt of Congress proceedings.
"In the meantime, so that the Committee and the public can better understand your role, and the role of your most senior advisers, in connection with Operation Fast and Furious, please clarify the question raised by your assertion of executive privilege," he said in the letter to Obama.
"To what extent were you or your most senior advisers involved in Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the Attorney General to the Committee? Please also identify any communications, meetings, and teleconferences between the White House and the Justice Department between February 4, 2011 and June 18, 2012, the day before the Attorney General requested that you assert executive privilege."
Issa cited the program's "disastrous consequences: the slain border agent and his distraught family, countless deaths in Mexico, and the souring effect on our relationship with Mexico."
He said Democrats and Republicans on the committee agree that Terry's family, his border patrol colleagues, the Mexican government, and Americans "deserves answers."