President Barack Obama granted an 11th-hour request from Attorney General Eric Holder to exert executive privilege and withhold documents related to the Fast and Furious gun probe, but the maneuver appeared unlikely to head off a contempt vote against Holder by House Republicans.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its chairman Rep. Darrell Issa forged ahead Wednesday morning with a meeting on the contempt resolution in spite of Obama’s move.
After Holder made the request to Obama in a letter on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to Issa on Wednesday informing him that the president has granted the request.
"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 regarding Operation Fast and Furious," Cole wrote. "Although we are deeply disappointed that the committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the department remains willing to work with the committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues."
The move by Holder and Obama to lock down some requested documents “only complicates the fight over the botched anti-gunrunning operation between the legislative and executive branches,” Fox News reported.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who along with Issa has been spearheading inquiries into the gunrunning scandal, immediately attacked the president for his move.
“The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions,” Grassley said. “How can the President assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement? How can the President exert executive privilege over documents he's supposedly never seen? Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme?
“The contempt citation is an important procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances,” added Grassley. “The questions from Congress go to determining what happened in a disastrous government program for accountability and so that it's never repeated again.”
If the vote proceeds, Republicans have more than enough votes in the committee to pass the contempt resolution. But Holder would not be considered to be held in contempt of Congress unless the full House approves the measure.
Obama's decision pertains to documents from February 2011 and afterward examining how Justice Department officials learned about the Fast and Furious probe.
The failed Fast and Furious operation attempted to sell thousands of guns to arms dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to trace them to leaders of drug cartels. Many of the weapons showed up in crime scenes.
Congressional investigators have been trying to determine if and when high-level Justice officials knew about problems with the operation.
Also on Wednesday, Grassley’s office issued a memorandum claiming the Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee," wrote Grassley.
“This is the second major retraction the Justice Department has made in the last seven months. In December 2011, the Department retracted its claim that the ATF had not allowed illegally purchased guns to be trafficked to Mexico.
“In addition, the Justice Department released only one page of additional material prior to the Attorney General’s meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. It is a page of handwritten notes by a public affairs specialist for the Deputy Attorney General, which the Department says it ‘just recently discovered.’
“The notes indicate that when Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein met with senior ATF officials on April 28, 2010, regarding the problem of gunwalking in Wide Receiver, the Deputy Attorney General’s public affairs specialist also attended the meeting.”
Grassley commented: “In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued.”
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