President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege moments before the House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday sat down to discuss the contempt charge against Attorney General Eric Holder relating to his non-compliance to the committee’s subpoena for thousands of documents regarding the botched gun-walking operation known as “fast and furious.”
Republicans criticized the use of the executive privilege by the president.House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel pointed out in a statement, The “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?”
Steel also said, “Yesterday, the Attorney General said he was willing to provide certain documents to the committee, but only if the committee canceled its contempt markup first before reviewing said documents. Today, the Attorney General says all of these documents are covered by executive privilege, and thus cannot be turned over. What sort of legal analysis justifies this sudden shift?”
The document I referenced is an internal email from the then-Acting Director of ATF to people at ATF and DOJ headquarters.
The Attorney General was not clear in response to my question whether he believed that executive privilege could be asserted with regard to that document or others like it. Rather than executive privilege, the Attorney General talked about “deliberative process.” He indicated a willingness to provide that document and others like it, if the possibility of contempt were to be taken off the table. Yet this morning, it appears that you may be claiming executive privilege over the very same type of document—internal Justice Department communications not involving the White House—that the Attorney General said he was willing to provide.
On March 24, 2009 Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, and U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden addressed U.S.- Mexico border security issues at a White House press conference. During the press conference, Ogden discussed that the president had “directed” the justice department “ to take action to fight these cartels and Attorney General Eric Holder and I are taking several new and aggressive steps as part of the administration’s comprehensive plan.” (partial transcript below for video above- bolding is mine)
ROBERT GIBBS Today Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden will lay the administration’s comprehensive response to the situation along the border with Mexico and we’ll take a few questions.
DAVID OGDEN: Under the President’s leadership, together with the State Department and DHS, the Department of Justice stands ready to take the fight directly to the Mexican drug cartels.
The president has directed us to take action to fight these cartels and Attorney General Eric Holder and I are taking several new and aggressive steps as part of the administration’s comprehensive plan. The first steps include the following: DOJ’s Drug Enforcement Administration which already has the largest US drug enforcement presence in Mexico, with 11 offices in that country, is placing 16 new DEA positions in southwest border field operations- specifically to target Mexican trafficking and associated violence. The DEA is also deploying 4 new mobile enforcement teams to specifically target Mexican methamphetamine trafficking, both along the border and in US cities impacted by the cartels.
DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is increasing it’s efforts by adding 37 new employees in 3 new offices using $10 million dollars in Recovery Act funds and redeploying 100 personnel to the southwest border in the next 45 days to fortify it’s Project Gunrunner- which is aimed at disrupted arms trafficking between the United States and Mexico. ATF is doubling it’s presence in Mexico itself, from 5 to 9 personnel working with the Mexicans specifically to facilitate gun tracing activity which targets the illegal weapons and their sources in the United States.
APRIL 2, 2009
Over one week later on April 2, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in Cuernavaca at the Mexico/United States Arms Trafficking Conference. During the address, he mentioned Project Gunrunner: (bolding is mine)
I would like to thank the Mexican and U.S. experts who have worked so hard on this issue. On our side, Secretary Napolitano and I are committed to putting the resources in place to increase our attack on arms trafficking into Mexico.
Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break the backs of the cartels. My department is committing 100 new ATF personnel to the Southwest border in the next 100 days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner, DEA is adding 16 new positions on the border, as well as mobile enforcement teams, and the FBI is creating a new intelligence group focusing on kidnapping and extortion. DHS is making similar commitments, as Secretary Napolitano will detail.
But as today’s conference has emphasized, the problem of arms trafficking will not be stopped at the border alone. Rather, as our experts emphasized, this is a problem that must be met as part of a comprehensive attack against the cartels – an attack in depth, on both sides of the border, that focuses on the leadership and assets of the cartel. This is the type of full-bore, prosecution-driven approach that the U.S. Department of Justice took to dismantle La Cosa Nostra – once the most powerful organized crime group operating in the United States.
March 22, 2011
On March 22, 2011 President Obama spoke to the spanish network Univision about Fast and Furious:
“Well, first of all, I did not authorize it,” President Obama said. “Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. He’s been very clear that our policy is to catch gun-runners and put them in jail. So, what he’s done is, he’s assigned an IG, an inspector general to investigate what exactly happened here.”
The Univision reporter asked the president, “So who authorized it?”
“Well, we don’t have all the facts. That’s why the IG is in business,” President Obama responded.
“And you were not even informed about it?”asked the reporter.
“Absolutely not. This is a pretty big government, the United States government,” said Obama. “I’ve got a lot of moving parts. There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that’s the case, then we’ll find — find out and we’ll hold somebody accountable.”
The Univision reporter finally asked, “Mexico was not informed then?”
Obama said, “Well, if I wasn’t informed, I assure you Mexico wasn’t.”
March 2011 and May 3, 2011
On May 3, 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder sat before the House Oversight Committee. Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and Oversight Committee Chair questioned AG Holder when did he first become aware of the Fast and Furious gun walking operation.
Mr. Holder responded that he was “not sure of the exact date” [when he first learned of Fast and Furious], but I probably heard about Fast and Furious over the last few weeks.” However, Matt Boyle at the Daily Caller, reported that documents surfaced showing:
…on November 1, 2010 Deputy Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, personally informed Holder about the operation in a briefing. The document was a memo Breuer wrote to Holder saying in which he included a brief description of Operation Fast and Furious.
Another document is a July 2010 memo from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center to Holder that details how “straw purchasers” — enabled by Operation Fast and Furious — were responsible for the purchase of 1,500 guns that were then supplied to Mexican drug cartels.
CNN’s John King in the video above points out to Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the Oversight Committee, that President Obama told CNN Espanol in March of 2011,”There had been problems. I heard on the news about this story fast and furious, where, allegedly, guns were being run into Mexico and ATF knew about it but didn’t apprehend those who had sent it,” said Obama. “
“Eric holder, the Attorney General, has been very clear, he knew nothing about this. We’ve assigned an IG…an Inspector General to investigate it,” the president added.
The House Oversight Committee placed AG Holder in contempt on Wednesday afternoon. The vote remained along party lines (23-17). House Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, have call a fast and furious contempt charge vote to the House floor next week unless AG Holder can produce the necessary documents that have been requested of him before the actual date of the vote is set.