UPDATE 4:14 PM: Attorney General Eric Holder has been voted in contempt of Congress by the House Oversight Committee by 23-17. The vote came down after three Demcratic amendments to the contempt charge were voted down. An amendment introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy rendering President Obama's invocation of executive privilege not applicable or relevant to this case at this time. The contempt charge will now move to the full House next week.
Capitol Hill- Attorney General Eric Holder got a temporary lifeline from President Obama today just minutes before the House Oversight Committee started debate over whether to hold Holder in contempt with a vote. Obama granted an executive privilege request sent to him by Holder in letter form yesterday. The time at which the letter was sent is unclear, but Issa was unaware of the request until today when he was informed by Deputy Attorney General James Cole the request had been granted. The assertion of executive privilege came after Holder failed to produce 1300 Fast and Furious documents and asked Chairman Issa to drop the Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious at a meeting yesterday.
“Brian Terry has been dead over 500 days now and nobody has been held accountable,” Rep. Buerkle said. “The lack of transparency with the death of a Border Patrol Agent is sickening.”
Executive privilege is used to keep communications directly involving the President confidential. The fact that the president invoked it for Holder today at the very last minute raises more questions about who in the White House knew what and when about Operation Fast and Furious.
“For the first 11 months, the administration denied participation in this,” Rep. Mica said. “This is a sad day when Barack Obama would exert himself at the last minute.”
President Obama has claimed he knew nothing about the program before the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. He first spoke about the topic during an interview with Univision in March 2011, yet Holder said didn't "know" about the program until May 2011.
"The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions. 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. The questions from Congress go to determining what happened in a disastrous government program for accountability and so that it's never repeated again," said a statement from Senator Charles Grassley, who has been investigating the scandal.
Speaker John Boehner accused the White House of engaging in a cover-up of the Fast and Furious program.
"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. The Administration has always insisted that wasn't the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?" Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.
The White House defended the move. Despite President Obama’s previous claims he knew nothing about Fast and Furious, at least three of his senior White House national security advisors received emails about the program, including Obama’s Senior Advisor to Latin America Dan Restrepo.
“Now, was fighting the drug gangs at the border a sensitive national security matter? And, if so was the President of the United States of America personally involved in making decisions as to how to conduct that fight? If that’s the case, this has reached a different level and we now know why the attorney general has ferociously defended these documents,” Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News.
It's worth remembering that back in 2007, Obama attacked the Bush administration for the use of executive privilege, saying, “There has been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there is something a little shaky that is taking place. I think the administration would be best served by coming clean on this.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, referenced this position in the committee today, saying, “I’m going to resist the temptation to contrast Senator Obama’s position on executive privilege with President Obama’s.”
"The Attorney General is not above the law," Rep. Scott DesJarlais said, while Rep. Gosar added, “Finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt is long overdue.”
Rep. Maloney and other Democrats, used the hearing to push for more gun control, falsely blamed former President Bush for the program and defended Holder in his response to the Congressional Fast and Furious investigation.
“I am offended, personally, that you would call the Attorney General a liar,” Maloney said to Chairman Issa. Holder has changed his testimony about Fast and Furious under oath in front of Congress multiple times.
Gowdy presented multiple pieces of evidence to justify contempt and to prove the Justice Department has been less than honest in its response to Congressional inquiries.
“This was not Mr. Chairman as initially the administration mantra an Arizona investigation. Senior level officials within the Department of Justice in Washington knew about Fast and Furious well before Special Agent Brian Terry was murdered. Senior level DOJ officials were briefed, they discussed press conference opportunities, they discussed the unsealing of indictments, they traded emails about the status of the case, they approved wiretap applications and most significantly Mr. Chairman they actively discussed the tactic of gunwalking well in advice of Special Agent Brian Terry’s murder,” Gowdy said.
Issa said that a contempt vote will not be the end to his investigation into the Department of Justice on this issue.