Fast & Furious cover-up enters new and absurd stage

Judicial Watch has been tenacious in pursuing the truth behind the outrageous operation known as Fast & Furious, by which the United States government provided weapons illegally to Mexican drug cartels, resulting in hundreds of deaths in Mexico, and the death of at least one US law enforcement officer. The response of the Obama administration has been to stonewall at every step, indicating that there is something to hide, possibly criminal behavior.

 Yesterday, it was revealed that the Obama administration is claiming executive privilege to keep secret a farcical array of documents, including emails sent my the Attorney General Eric Holder to his wife and to his mother. Neither of these women is a government employee, so their communications to Mr. Holder cannot by any stretch of the imagination be construed as covered by executive privilege, which is limited to policy deliberations at senior levels of the executive branch. Judicial Watch writes:

Judicial Watch announced today that it received from the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) a “Vaughnindex” detailing records about the Operation Fast and Furious scandal.  The index was forced out of the Obama administration thanks to JW’s June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequentSeptember 2012 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-01510)).  A federal court had ordered the production over the objections of the Obama Justice Department.

The document details the Attorney General Holder’s personal involvement in managing the Justice Department’s strategy on media and Congressional investigations into the Fast and Furious scandal.  Notably, the document discloses that emails between Attorney General Holder and his wife Sharon Malone – as well as his mother – are being withheld under an extraordinary claim of executive privilege as well as a dubious claim of deliberative process privilege under the Freedom of Information Act.  The “First Lady of the Justice Department” is a physician and not a government employee.

Judicial Watch has not had time to examine the complete index, but draws the following conclusions preliminarily:

The Vaughn index explains 15,662 documents. Typically, a Vaughn index must: (1) identify each record withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.  The Vaughn index arguably fails to provide all of this required information but does provide plenty of interesting information for a public kept in the dark for years about the Fast and Furious scandal.

Based on a preliminary review of the massive document, Judicial Watch can disclose that the Vaughn index reveals:

  • Numerous emails that detail Attorney General Holder’s direct involvement in crafting talking points, the timing of public disclosures, and handling Congressional inquiries in the Fast and Furious matter.
  • President Obama has asserted executive privilege over nearly 20 email communications between Holder and his spouse Sharon Malone. The administration also claims that the records are also subject to withholding under the “deliberative process” exemption. This exemption ordinarily exempts from public disclosure records that could chill internal government deliberations.
  • Numerous entries detail DOJ’s communications (including those of Eric Holder) concerning the White House about Fast and Furious.
  • The scandal required the attention of virtually every top official of the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Communications to and from the United States Ambassador to Mexico about the Fast and Furious matter are also described.
  • Many of the records are already publicly available such as letters from Congress, press clips, and typical agency communications. Ordinarily, these records would, in whole or part, be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.  Few of the records seem to even implicate presidential decision-making and advice that might be subject to President Obama’s broad and unprecedented executive privilege claim.

John Hinderaker of Powerline comments:

We now know that the position being taken by President Obama is a bad joke. The Obama administration doesn’t just break the law. It laughs at the law. It mocks the law. It treats as a sucker every citizen who imagines that there is still a shred of integrity in the executive branch.

I imagine that Judicial Watch will appeal the assertion of executive privilege. However, Eric Holder will soon leave office, and it is likely that the stonewalling experts of the Obama administration can delay disclosure of whatever they are hiding until after Obama leaves office.

Remember, people have died as a result of the Fast & Furious operation. There may well be criminal liability at stake.

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