President Obama invokes executive privilege in Operation Fast & Furious probe
The AG says he won't turn over documents unless Issa guarantees it satisfies subpoena. Issa says he can't decide whether to go ahead with contempt vote without records.Photo: Video by kgun9.com
WASHINGTON (KGUN9-TV/AP) -President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege to withhold documents a House committee is seeking in an investigation of a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona, known as Operation Fast and Furious.
In a letter to Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a Justice Department official said the privilege applies to documents that explain how the department learned that there were problems with the investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.
At the start of today's committee hearing, Issa called the president's action "an untimely" assertion of the privilege. The committee will still vote on whether to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress for failing to turn over the documents.
Yesterday, Rep. Issa met briefly Tuesday with Holder, but failed to come to an agreement.
Issa wanted to know who prepared a now retracted letter, in which the Justice Department claimed the U.S. did not knowingly help smuggle guns to Mexico, including those found in Rio Rico where Agent Brian Terry was fatally wounded. Rifles at the scene were traced to Fast and Furious led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency allowed thousands of weapons to cross the border, in the attempt to fish out the Mexican Drug Cartel.
However, Holder said he would not turn over the documents unless Issa agreed to another meeting and he wanted assurance from Issa that the transfer of records would satisfy a subpoena by the committee.
“Given the extraordinary offer that we made and given the extraordinary way in which we have shared materials to date, I think we are actually involved more in political gamesmanship – as opposed to trying to get the information they say we want,” Holder said.
Meanwhile, Issa said he needs the documents first, before deciding whether to hold the Attorney General in contempt of Congress.
“Obviously, what wasn’t resolved that caused me to be out here is that we need the documents, not the briefing. We need the documents to know whether or not he’s being responsive to our request,” Issa said.
Stalling by Holder has gotten some groups upset, including the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 17,000 agents.
Reporter Claire Doan spoke with the President George McCubbin III by phone. She asked what his sense is of how agents feel regarding the Fast and Furious debacle.
“They’re upset. They’re pissed. They’re angry, but more so all of that is directed at the attorney general because he has not come forward with the information that the committee is asking for,” McCubbin told KGUN9 News. “It’s an insult that he’s sending to every man and woman who wears a uniform, more so for our agency and the U.S. Border Patrol.”
A Washington D.C.-based public watchdog group, Judicial Watch, has filed a freedom of Information Act against the ATC for Fast and Furious records.
“Let’s be clear. You can draw a direct line from the Fast and Furious to the death of Brian Terry to the death of hundreds of Mexicans. We’ve got to find out what went wrong and hold those responsible accountable, to make sure this never happens again,” said President Tom Fitton.
Holder has said he will not resign and points to a similar operation during the Bush Administration, one run out of Tucson.
“An attorney general whom I suppose you would hold in higher regard was briefed on these kinds of tactics – Operation Wide Receiver – and did nothing to stop them,” Holder said during a June 7 congressional hearing. “Three-hundred guns walked in that instance. I’m the attorney general who called on an inspector general to look into this matter, to investigate this matter.”
The last time a contempt vote occurred was in 2008, against two White House officials over the U.S. Attorney firing controversy.