Richard Nixon used Executive Privilege as a shield from Watergate investigators, Bill Clinton invoked executive privilege to shield top aides from testifying in an investigation of his affair with young intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Today, President Barack Obama invoked Executive Privilege in an attempt to put a lid on the Fast and Furious government gun-running operation that allowed thousands of weapons to walk across the Mexican border into the hands of drug cartels. The operation fell apart with no apparent success after an American border patrol agent was killed with one of the guns.
Congress has threatened to hold Obama’s controversial attorney general, Eric Holder, in contempt unless he releases documents related to an alleged cover up at the Justice Department. Holder has released a flurry of benign documents that do not shed light on what he and the president knew, or when they knew it, concerning Fast and Furious operations. Holder claims he and the president weren’t aware of the highly controversial failed Justice Department operation.
After U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed with one of the guns, the Obama administration claimed in a February 14 letter that it did not knowingly help smuggle guns into Mexico, but later admitted the the letter was "in error." Among other things, Congress wants to know who in the administration wrote that letter.
It was learned through investigators that despite desperate pleas from government agents, the Obama administration refused to trace the guns being given to Mexican gangs.
More troubling to investigators, the Obama administration never offered a plausible justification for why anyone would have started a program to push untraceable guns into Mexico in the first place.
The Fast and Furious gun-running program became a hot potato for the White House when a mole in the Justice Department gave the House Oversight committee a set of wiretap applications proving that high department officials knew about the administration's efforts to aid the gun smuggling. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed documents his department possessed were classified, not relevant to the ongoing investigation and refused to release them. The controversial attorney general has since refused to answer questions during a congressional investigation, mirroring the actions of Richard Nixon’s administration during the waning days of the Watergate scandal that brought that administration down.
Just how far Holder is willing to go to stifle the Fast and Furious scandal became clear during recent hearings conducted by the House of Representatives. Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) questioning during the hearings showcases a defiant Holder who is not willing to talk about Fast and Furious.
After Holder reiterated that senior political appointees at Justice hadn’t seen the wiretap applications, Chaffetz read one of the email exchanges the mole had leaked and dated long before the February 4, 2011 letter denying any “gun walking.”
Weinstein: “Do you think we should have Lanny participate in press when Fast and Furious and Laura’s Tucson case [Wide Receiver] are unsealed? It’s a tricky case, given the number of guns that have walked, but it is a significant set of prosecutions.” Trusty wrote back: “I think so, but the timing will be tricky, too. Looks like we’ll be able to unseal the Tucson case sooner than the Fast and Furious (although this may be just the difference between Nov. and Dec). . . . It’s not any big surprise that a bunch of US guns are being used in MX [Mexico], so I’m not sure how much grief we get for ‘guns walking.’”
In response, Holder said, “The e-mail that you just read, and this is important, that e-mail referred to Wide Receiver, it did not refer to Fast and Furious,” Holder claimed. Holder dug in his heals and kept asserting that the e-mails referred to Wide Receiver (which was true), but it also referred to Fast and Furious, which Holder kept denying.
Congress ordered Holder to produce specific documents involving Justice Department communications concerning the Fast and Furious operation in yesterday’s hearings however Holder showed up with nothing, offering only to engage in a briefing.
Holder temporarily stalled the investigation in yesterday’s meeting when he demanded a promise that Congress would shut down its investigation into Fast and Furious if he gave them documents of his choosing. Meanwhile, Congress is preparing to cite Holder for contempt. For his part, Obama has countered Congress by claiming Executive Privilege over Fast and Furious documents, a move some say was designed to shield the White House and Holder from the investigators.