When Operation Fast and Furious really broke last year, I was a bit surprised that Republicans didn’t make more of it. Here we have an operation – and at this point we have to ignore that it began under the Bush Administration, as the GOP has done – that directed gun dealers to sell weapons to Mexican drug runners, in a botched attempt at tracking them. The head of ATF and a US Attorney in Arizona resigned over the affair. It sort of lingered in the background as an issue for a while. But when Darrell Issa had nowhere else to turn, he put it back on the front burner of his House Oversight Committee. Today, it’s likely that the committee will hold a vote charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress by obstructing the committee’s investigation.
A Republican House committee chairman said Tuesday he is prepared to follow through on a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder unless the Justice Department provides Congress with documents on a flawed gun-smuggling probe.
The likelihood of a contempt vote on Wednesday rose after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Holder failed to reach agreement in a 20-minute meeting at the Capitol.
“If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward,” Issa told reporters.
Holder claimed he did offer an “extraordinary” amount of disclosure to Issa in the meeting, but obviously not the documents he was seeking.
This is the kind of stunt most people expected from Issa when he got the gavel for the Oversight Committee. In reality he has not kicked up that much dust. The celebrated Solyndra investigation went absolutely nowhere, and others fizzled as well. Even Issa’s press aide had to resign in disgrace after his machinations with the media were discovered. But with Fast and Furious, Issa found his niche.
The document discovery he seeks is in all likelihood nothing more than a fishing expedition. But this is a commentary on an Administration increasingly obsessed with secrecy. Holder maintains that his office did nothing to mislead or deceive Congress about the Fast and Furious operation. If that’s the case, perhaps there’s nothing to hide. But document delivery is something that almost never happens without a lot of wrangling for this White House. They redacted almost all of a document from OLC on recess appointments that was written during the Bush Administration, to use just one egregious example. It’s entirely possible that the Justice Department has already disclosed everything there is to disclose, and Issa is just looking for a fight. But there’s also reason to believe that the Administration isn’t necessarily as transparent as they claim.
TPMMuckraker has more. This is the witch hunt we expected, but Holder could probably make this go away pretty quickly if he wanted. We’ll see how it plays out today.
UPDATE: Holder today asked President Obama to assert executive privilege over the documents in question subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee. The President did assert executive privilege today.
I don’t think this will stop the contempt vote. The NRA just announced that they will score the vote, which is kind of funny, because the vote is over an operation that, in the eyes of the GOP, failed to restrict the flow of guns into the country.
…on the flip I’m going to put Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings’ entire statement on the contempt vote, for context, keeping in mind that he’s a partisan Democrat.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First and foremost, I believe Congress has a responsibility to conduct vigorous oversight of the Executive Branch. The Constitution requires this from Congress, and the American people expect it from Members who serve on this Committee.
But the Constitution also requires us to recognize the legitimate interests of the Executive Branch, and to avoid unnecessary conflict by seeking reasonable accommodations when possible. In my opinion, the Committee has failed in this fundamental responsibility.
Last night, the Attorney General came to us in good faith. He offered to provide additional internal deliberative documents. He pledged to provide a substantive briefing on the Department’s actions. He agreed to a request by Senator Grassley to describe the categories of documents being produced and withheld. He made clear he was willing to provide substantive responses to additional questions. And he even offered to provide documents that are outside the scope of the Committee’s subpoena.
All he requested in return was that you—as Chairman of this Committee—give him your good faith commitment that we would move toward resolving this contempt fight. It was a fair and reasonable offer, especially in light of the partisan and inflammatory personal attacks you have made against him throughout this investigation.
For the past year, you have been holding the Attorney General to an impossible standard. You accused him of a “cover-up” for protecting documents he was prohibited by law from producing. You claimed that he “obstructed” the Committee’s work by complying with federal statutes passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. And earlier this month, you went on national television and called the Attorney General—our nation’s chief law enforcement officer—a liar.
At the same time, you refused requests to hold a public hearing with Ken Melson, the former head of ATF—the agency responsible for conducting these operations. This refusal came after Mr. Melson told Committee investigators privately that he never informed senior officials at the Justice Department about gunwalking during Operation Fast and Furious because he was unaware of it himself.
Last night, you flatly rejected the Attorney General’s offer. You refused to even commit to working toward a mutually agreeable resolution. Instead, you rushed to a prearranged press conference to announce the failure of the meeting.
It seems clear that you had no interest in resolving this issue, and that the Committee planned to go forward with contempt before we walked into the meeting with the Attorney General.
This is especially disappointing since the Department has already turned over more than 1,000 pages of documents that answer your question. You wanted to know why the Department sent a letter to Senator Grassley initially denying allegations of gunwalking. The documents show that when they were drafting this letter, the Department’s legislative affairs office relied on categorical and emphatic denials from the leaders of ATF. These are the same ATF officials you now refuse to call for a public hearing.
This morning, we were informed that the Administration is now asserting executive privilege over the narrow subset of documents that remain at issue. As I understand it, the assertion does not cover everything in this category, such as whistleblower documents, and the Administration has indicated that it remains willing to try to come to a mutual resolution despite its formal legal assertion.
As a Member of Congress, I treat assertions of executive privilege very seriously, and I believe they should be used only sparingly. In this case, it seems clear that the Administration was forced into this position by the Committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the Attorney General’s good faith offer.
Mr. Chairman, it did not have to be this way. We could have postponed today’s vote, accepted the Attorney General’s offer, and worked with the Department to obtain additional documents and information. Instead, by not honoring the Constitution’s charge to seek accommodation when possible, the position and prestige of this Committee has been diminished, and that result should concern us all.