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Obama Administration May Be Held in Contempt of Congress

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Presidential administration officials have been held in contempt only 12 times since Watergate in the 1970s, but number 13 may be on its way. Attorney General Eric Holder has refused to supply the House Oversight Committee with requested documents surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, the lethal and botched operation in which thousands of semi-automatic weapons were illegally sent over the border and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The operation resulted in the death of thousands of Mexican citizens and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, and involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (a division of Holder’s Justice Department.)

Yesterday, during a hearing on Capitol Hill examining whether the DOJ must respond to a lawfully issued and valid Congressional subpoena, multiple witnesses confirmed that the DOJ is not above the law and must, in fact, comply with the subpoena. The witnesses, which included Commissioner on Wartime Contracting Professor Charles Tiefer, American Public Law Specialist at the Library of Congress Morton Rosenberg, and Legislative Attorney Todd Tatelman, confirmed it is a Constitutional duty for Congress to oversee and question executive branch activities.

“The Justice Department is not immune from these investigations,” Rosenberg said.

The hearing sustained that both the House and Senate Congressional Oversight Committees have the absolute right to pursue and obtain information surrounding actions taken by the executive branch, as was the Founding Fathers’ intention in limiting the size and power of the President and his administration. Legally, the executive branch can decline providing the Congressional Oversight Committees with requested documentation only when the President invokes a Privilege Law, which shields the release of certain information. In this case, President Obama has yet to do so, and at this point in time, the House Oversight Committee has full rights to the requested documents.

The Obama Justice Department has been stonewalling the House Oversight Committee for months, citing ongoing investigations within the DOJ surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, in addition to claiming the House Oversight Committee does not have the authority to access the requested information.

“As things stand now, they owe you the documents,” Professor Tiefer said while giving testimony, adding there is no Constitutional basis for the DOJ’s refusal.

The little documentation currently available for the Congressional Oversight Committee is only the information accessible by the general public, hundreds of pages of which have been so redacted that the Committee has been unable to obtain much useful information about the Operation. They have made little progress in getting to the bottom of the scandal, and there is no way the Committee can satisfy its Constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch when the only information presented is heavily redacted material.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate and I think it sends the wrong signal that there may be some things they [DOJ] don’t want you to see,” said Morton when answering a question about the validity of hundreds of redacted documents from the DOJ.

Congressman Darrell Issa’s attempts to look into operations conducted by the Obama Justice Department are nothing new. Congressional Oversight investigations are regular occurrences throughout U.S. history, including Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, and the Bush Administration FBI informant program.

Issa’s requests are simple. He wants to know what happened, how high up in command the operation went, who ordered the operation, how the government can avoid this type of botched and lethal operation in the future and what the consequences of bad decisions made by officials in the DOJ have led to.

“Nobody wants to have to go to this step,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said when commenting on whether the DOJ will be held in contempt. “But you have a president and an attorney general who claim to be oblivious to what went on.”

A second hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, when the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry will testify.

“I want the people who killed Agent Brian Terry to be tried and convicted.” –Rep. Issa

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