JACKSBORO, Texas, June 21, 2012 — When most of us are ordered to cough up documents, we do it. Not so, if you are Attorney General Eric Holder and you really don’t want to. His boss can protect him by exerting executive privilege.
And that is just what happened Wednesday. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.), was set to vote Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over documents when, at the last hour, President Obama offered Holder a reprieve in the form of executive privilege.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of (R-Iowa) had this to say. “The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions, How can a 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?”
Grassley added that “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.”
Despite the executive privilege, the committee did vote, and by 23 to 17 it sent a contempt motion against Holder to the House floor.
The failed Fast and Furious operation sold thousands of guns to arms dealers along the border of Mexico, in hopes of tracing them to the drug cartels. At first glance, this was a stupid idea, and at second glance, it still was. But apparently someone in the DoJ thought differently, and it cost the life of Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, among others.
Brian Terry’s parents, and all Americans, want to see justice served in this matter. Whether this was a matter of bad judgment or willful negligence, whether it was cooked up at low levels and stayed there or whether Holder himself knew about the operation (and when), it has been a tragedy and a policy disaster. Holder owes it to the country to help clear it up, not stonewall.
The full House will by all indications pass a contempt citation. From there the citation will go to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who will deliver it to a grand jury. Whether the grand jury will be able to act or will be blocked by Obama’s use of executive privilege is part of the constitutional drama that will play out this summer. Obama should never have let it go this far.
Executive privilege has been successfully claimed by other presidents, but only when the national security was at stake, and when releasing documents could compromise national security. When they do it to protect themselves from examination for possible wrong doing, as Richard Nixon did, it is justifiably slapped down. In this case, the claim that confidentiality is required so that candor will be maintained in the dealings of the president with his cabinet is not only self-serving, but laughable. This president has made less use of his cabinet as a group of councilors than almost any president in our history. He’s known to all but ignore them, meeting with Holder himself about as often as he’s met with some union bosses.
In this case, holding documents concerning a botched gun running operation is a coverup. It was Holder’s coverup, and now it’s Obama’s. He would rather protect his attorney general than allow justice to be done. Neither of them is fit to protect and enforce the laws of the land.
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