Published: June 20, 2012
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to withhold from a Congressional oversight committee some documents and communications among his advisers regarding the failed gun enforcement operation known as “Fast and Furious,” in which weapons purchased in the United States were allowed to cross into Mexico.
It was the first time since Mr. Obama took office that he has asserted the privilege, and it sharpened considerably the long-festering dispute between Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The panel had been threatening to find Mr. Holder in contempt for refusing to hand over some documents.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Mr. Issa that the president was claiming privilege over the documents, although he suggested that there might yet be a way to negotiate the release of some of the contested documents.
“We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious,” the Justice Department letter said. “Although we are deeply disappointed that the committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the department remains willing to work with the committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues.”
But Mr. Issa said that the House had received no letter from Mr. Obama himself or a log specifying what was being withheld. He also raised doubts about whether executive privilege covered internal deliberative documents that did not relate to confidential communications involving the president himself.
“Our purpose has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt,” Mr. Issa said. “Our purpose has always been to get the information the committee needs to complete its work — that it is not only entitled to, but obligated to do.”