Obama goes Nixon, claims executive privilege on F&F
Having lived through Watergate and Richard Nixon's cover-up effort to claim executive privilege, I find that President Obama's claim of executive privilege sounds like a desperation move. Tom Cohen of CNN:
The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against Holder.
In a letter to Obama seeking the assertion of executive privilege, Holder said the documents involved related to the Justice Department's "response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries," and that release of internal executive branch documents would have "significant, damaging consequences."
Holder also said releasing the documents would "inhibit the candor of executive branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the ability of the executive branch to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight."
A separate Justice Department letter to Issa made public minutes before the committee meeting was scheduled to begin Wednesday said Obama "has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents."
Those post-February 4, 20011 documents relate to the period after a false letter was provided to the Issa committee. The current tussle is mostly about documents between the letter itself and the retraction. Who was involved in the deliberations over the falsehood and its retractions? How high up?
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa notes that this means that Obama is claiming privilege for documents it has been claimed he never saw. AP:
"The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions," Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a statement released Wednesday shortly after the president's move. "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."
Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has previously called a Justice Department investigation into the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning operation "botched."
The Holder narrative has been that this was a low level operation that was "botched" and besides it was a carryover from Bush, who is responsible for everything bad that has happened under Obama. Last week, Holder even asserted in testimony that his predecessor, Bush AG Mukasey, was briefed on the predecessor operation. Now, as the story is starting to crumble, Holder has retracted that claim, just as he retracted the February 2011 letter. Byron York of the Washington Examiner quotes a memo from Sen. Grassley:
The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder "inadvertently" made that claim to the Committee. The Department's letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation. This is the second major retraction the Justice Department has made in the last seven months. In December 2011, the Department retracted its claim that the ATF had not allowed illegally purchased guns to be trafficked to Mexico. Sen. Chuck Grassley's letter and the Department's response can be viewed here-1.
In other words, Holder has lied to the Issa committee twice and retracted his statements after a time lag.
It is hard to understand how Holder could intentionally make a false claim about Mukasey before the committee unless his preparation and staff work were incredibly sloppy, and he reckless in delivering sworn testimony. Mukasey is an injured party and can fight to clear his name.
Unfortunately, incompetence is the charitable explanation for Holder's behavior. The other explanation which fits the facts is that critics were right all along. The F&F operation was intended to salt Mexico with US weapons, so as to be able to bring domestic pressure for gun control, and that the documentary trail would reveal knowledge of nefarious activity, in violation of law (but sanctioned by the DoJ) and poltiical discussions.
What did the president know, and when did he know it? That's the appropriate question.
It doesn't help the executive privilege claim that Obama went on the record opposing EP during the Bush administration,