Executive privilege was invoked by President Barack Obama on Wednesday to withhold documents that a House committee asked to see regarding an investigation into a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. An official from the Justice Department wrote in a letter to Representative Darrell Issa that the privilege applies to documents that explain how the Justice Department learned of the problems in the investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.
“The president has asserted executive privilege,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in the 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.”
After the privilege was invoked by the president, House Speaker John Boehner asked the following question:
“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,” said Boehner’s press secretary Brendan Buck. “The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”
The investigation by the committee has lasted at least a year and a half and it has turned up over 7,600 documents related to the Fast and Furious Operation. In the operation, federal agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the state of Arizona stopped the usual practice of removing all illegal weapons from circulation. Instead, they would track weapons belonging to high-level arms traffickers and then dismantle their networks.
The Arizona agents lost track of a lot of the guns in Operation Fast and Furious and two of the guns that ‘walked’ during the operation were found at the scene of the killing of U.S. border agent Brian Terry. Issa wanted to see the documents as soon as possible but Holder said he would not turn over any documents until Issa agreed to hold another congressional briefing on the material.
“If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward” with a contempt vote, Issa said. Holder has since been voted into a contempt charge by Congress. The vote will now go to the House for a full vote, even though the House leaders do not need to vote. They could use the potential vote as a threat to begin new negotiations.
The document “pretty clearly demonstrates that there was no intention to mislead, to deceive,” Holder said.