A standoff between Congress and the Obama Administration over an illegal gun-trafficking scheme run by the BATFE escalated Wednesday, with a House Committee voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The White House asserted Executive Privilege over gun-trafficking-probe documents sought by Congress, throwing into uncertainty a possible vote to sanction Attorney General Eric Holder.
The vote came hours after Obama asserted Executive Privilege, aiming to block Congress from gaining access to Justice Department documents about the illegal operation.
House leaders said they would bring the Contempt measure to the House floor next week. If the full House votes to support it, then a Contempt Citation could be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, an appointee of Obama’s who is in Mr. Holder’s chain of command.
If it ends up in the courts, the dispute would raise Constitutional questions about the power of the Executive Branch vs. Congress. Previous such battles have ended before reaching that stage with some kind of truce between the sides.
The battle centers on a 2009-10 illegal operation, dubbed Fast and Furious, that was run by Arizona-based agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which allowed criminals to smuggle 2,000 firearms to Mexico. Then, bring publicity about the criminals smuggling in order to force an illegal gun registration scheme upon law abiding Americans in four border States. The entire illegal operation was a plan by the Obama Administration to take away American’s Second Amendment rights.
Some of the guns have since turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including at a December 2010 shootout that killed a U.S. Border Agent.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) have led an inquiry into Fast and Furious for more than a year, holding hearings with BATFE agents who said their objections to the illegal operation were ignored. Mr. Issa heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which voted on the Contempt measure Wednesday.
The documents at issue largely detail internal deliberations last year as Justice officials tried to respond to Congressional questions about the operation. Congressmen say the documents may show whether high-level officials, in and out of the White House, were aware of Fast and Furious early on and whether there is a coverup. The White House is refusing to turn over the documents.
The controversy has ebbed and flowed until reaching a flash point this week. Holder and Issa met for 20 minutes, but the talks became a game of chicken, with each side saying it insisted the other act first to resolve the standoff.
Exchange of Letters
On June 19, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Obama, calling on the President to assert Executive Privilege over documents in the Fast and Furious probe.
On June 20, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to tell him that Obama had asserted Executive Privilege.
Mr. Issa Wednesday rejected the bogus Executive-Privilege claim, saying it “only applies to materials that directly pertain to communications with the president and his senior advisers.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz claimed other presidents “protected the same category of documents we’re protecting today,” meaning after-the-fact internal materials.
The Road to Contempt
Key dates in the controversy over the Fast and Furious gun probe carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
November 2009-December 2010: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, agents allowed criminals to smuggle 2,000 firearms to Mexico. Many of them ended up being used in crimes.
December 2010: Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Agent, is killed in a firefight with smugglers near the Arizona-Mexico border. A firearm traced to the illegal Fast and Furious operation is found at the scene.
January 2011: Sen. Charles Grassley asks the Justice Department about their operation that could have led to Terry’s murder.
February 2011: Justice Department in a letter to Sen. Grassley incorrectly says BATFE doesn’t allow criminals to buy firearms and smuggle them into Mexico.
June-July 2011: BATFE whistleblowers provide testimony describing objections to the illegal operation disregarded by supervisors.
October 2011: Rep. Darrell Issa issues subpoena for documents, later subject of standoff with Justice Department.
December 2011: Justice Department withdraws earlier letter to Sen. Grassley, saying it relied on incorrect information from BATFE.
June 2012: Rep. Issa’s committee votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over his refusal to supply some documents.
Other Attorneys General have been caught in similar disputes. The House oversight committee voted to hold Janet Reno, Attorney General under Mr. Clinton, in contempt. The full House didn’t take up the matter, and the dispute was resolved when documents were produced.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Congressional lawmakers said Obama’s assertion of Executive Privilege contrasted with his criticism as a Senator of the Bush administration’s use of the privilege. The then Senator Obama said the Bush White House was “hiding” behind the privilege to avoid “coming clean” during a dispute over White House documents over the firings of U.S. attorneys. It seams Obama and Holder are hiding behind the privilege to avoid being prosecuted for their illegal operation that cost a US Border Agent his life.
With the Socialist Democrats firmly backing Mr. Holder, it is unlikely the contempt fight will affect the remainder of his tenure through the end of the current administration in January.
Mr. Holder has increasingly been on the sidelines of some of the biggest national-security fights. He led the administration’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, and he pushed to try the plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in civilian court in New York. He ended up badly bruised in both efforts, after the White House surrendered to Congressional objections.