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Grassley: Obama’s Actions Suggest Involvement in Fast and Furious Cover-Up

By    |   Wednesday, 20 June 2012 08:20 PM EDT

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley charged in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege in the bungled “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-running scheme could indicate that the president is involved.

“I wonder why. Is it because the president does have something to do with it? And I don’t have any evidence of that, but it would be the first time that I had any suspicion,” asserted Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before a House committee voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Justice Department documents related to Fast and Furious.

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“Well the only thing I can say is, it raised questions in my mind that maybe they knew more about Fast and Furious than they ever wanted us to know and that the documents that we requested might prove that,” declared Grassley. “It would be very harmful to the president, and in an election year they want to cover up until after the election.”

Grassley’s remarks appeared to represent an expansion of his earlier official statement that speculated on possible “White House involvement,” but had not specifically questioned the president’s possible involvement.

Obama invoked executive privilege for the first time since being sworn in as president to withhold documents from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which subsequently proceeded with the contempt vote along party lines later in the day.

The president’s decision to invoke executive privilege came as a shock to Grassley and House Republicans. Presidents have invoked the privilege for years -- it's actually rooted in arguments made by George Washington himself -- but the U.S. Supreme Court first acknowledged a constitutional basis for the practice in its 1974 United States v. Nixon decision. Still, courts have never given presidents absolute authority to defy congressional subpoenas.

Essentially, the idea behind executive privilege is that presidents should be free to engage in private decision-making with their advisers without fearing how their words or internal memos might look to Congress or the public.

Nixon and other presidents -- including, now, Obama -- have argued that the authority also extends to the work of high-level agency officials like the attorney general, even if they weren't communicating with the president or White House about such work.

The contempt citation must still be approved by the full House, and could technically result in a federal case against Holder. Grassley does not think that such an outcome is likely, nor does he think Congress would be able to compel prosecution of Holder.

“You can’t because that’s an executive responsibility under the court. But you would think that in so many instances where this has been done before, there has been the proper prosecution,” observed Grassley. “You’re talking about a misdemeanor — and possibly up to a year in jail time. I would think it would be very embarrassing to an attorney general to be caught in contempt when all we want is documents.”

He added that the president’s use of executive privilege appears to be at odds with his push for greater transparency.

“You have a president that ran on a platform that he’s going to be the most transparent of any president ever, and he ends up being less transparent than most presidents,” according to Grassley. “And this is just one example of where they don’t want the transparency of these documents being out because there must be something that scares them about it and would be embarrassing to them.”

The president could also be trying to protect Holder, he said. Grassley and his staff have been conducting an investigation of the Fast and Furious operation that put weapons in the hands of Mexican drug cartels apart from the investigation being conducted by California Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The congressional investigation stemmed from Grassley’s inquiry into whistle-blower allegations that the government had allowed the transfer of illegally purchased weapons found at the scene of the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry. The Department of Justice denied the allegations for 10 months before withdrawing its denial, according to Grassley.

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"Even at the end of our meeting with Holder last night — up until that point, and at the end of the meeting — there was never one evidence that executive privilege would ever be cast onto this whole issue,” Grassley insisted.

The Hawkeye State senator said it is unlikely that the Democratic-controlled Senate would move to impeach Holder even if the Republican-controlled House were to consider such action.

“It only takes a majority vote in the House of Representatives. That could be accomplished, but it takes a two-third vote of the Senate sitting as jurors to find a person guilty and to actually be found guilty of the impeachment charges,” he explained. “I don’t think that that’s a realistic possibility.”

Grassley believes that Holder also owes an apology to his predecessor — Michael Mukasey. In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Holder claimed that Mukasey had been briefed on similar kinds of tactics used in an operation called Wide Receiver and did nothing to stop them. The Justice Department subsequently walked back those comments today.

“Of course he should apologize,” snapped Grassley, who sees a substantive difference between Operation Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. “It was a well-thought-out program where guns were actually followed and kept track of very closely and entirely different from Fast and Furious, which was basically a program that got out of control — the sale of 2,000 guns — and the guns weren’t followed.”

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While some political observers fear that the investigation into Fast and Furious could trigger a constitutional crisis, Grassley believes it is the responsibility of Congress to pursue the matter.

“Everybody says they want to avoid a constitutional crisis, but when you ask for documents in your constitutional responsibility of oversight to make sure the checks and balances of government work — and that’s all the Congress is pursuing — and people take an oath to uphold the Constitution — I would think that they would be embarrassed that they’re not abiding by the Constitution,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 08:20 PM
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