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2012-06-28

Prez protects Fast & Furious from scrutiny

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

For months, Congressional investigations into the controversial Operation "Fast and Furious" got no traction in the mainstream media.

Now, however, a long hot summer inside the Washington, DC beltway has gotten a little longer and a whole lot hotter for the Obama Administration - and the media has awakened at last.

Recent hearings convened by Chairman Lamar Smith of the House Judiciary Committee and Chairman Darrell Issa of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee culminated with the Oversight Committee's vote to hold US Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

For months, Holder has refused to produce documents subpoenaed by Issa's committee during an investigation of the failed Operation "Fast and Furious."

'Violations of public trust'

Additionally, during a similar Senate hearing on June 12, Senator John Cornyn publically called for Holder's resignation, citing the AG's "repeated violations of the public trust and, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office."

Late Tuesday, June 19, Holder met with Issa in a Hail Mary attempt to forestall the contempt vote, which could potentially culminate in a constitutional crisis - an anathema in an election year. However, Issa refused to back down. On June 20, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23-17 - along partisan lines - to find Holder in contempt for failing to comply with their requests to supply documents related to the botched gun-walking operation. That same day, Holder asked President Barack Obama to use executive privilege to withhold the documents, which Obama did with alacrity.

This marked the first time that Obama had invoked executive privilege since taking office. A White House press release noted that former President George W. Bush had invoked executive privilege six times, and former President Bill Clinton used doctrine 14 times.

According to a report issued by the National Constitution Center, "the claim of executive privilege allows a president to withhold information from Congress and the courts when given a subpoena, until the question at hand is settled by a compromise, a Congressional vote or within the court system. In rare cases, the Supreme Court will decide the issue."

No one held accountable

After learning that the White House had asserted executive privilege over subpoenaed documents thus thwarting - for the time being, anyway - a Congressional investigation into the botched gun-walking operation, Cornyn said, "The Attorney General and now the President have refused to turn over documents to investigators and failed to hold anyone accountable for his department's mishandling of Fast and Furious, which lead to the death of Brian Terry. (The June 20) vote could have been avoided, but the Attorney General and President Obama's insistence on stonewalling left no other option."

Operation Fast and Furious was a sting operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under the direction of the Department of Justice. The operation was supposed to track the flow of guns purchased in the United States across the Mexican border - and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. However, nearly 2,000 firearms went missing with two being discovered at the scene of the murdered Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Other errant firearms were involved in the deaths of more than 200 Mexican citizens.

White House involvement?

In a statement emailed to reporters, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner, ratcheted things up a notch, writing, "Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding 'Fast and Furious' were confined to the Department of Justice. The White House 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?" However, Issa disavowed White House involvement on the Sunday, June 24, political talk shows.

The contempt of Congress charge against Holder will likely be brought to the House floor for a full vote this week. Political pundits expect it to pass in the house but be defeated in the Senate.

'Unprecedented & inexcusable'

Regarding the up and coming vote, Smith said, "Attorney General Holder's continued refusal to cooperate with a legitimate congressional inquiry is unprecedented and inexcusable. The President's assertion of executive privilege over the subpoenaed documents only raises more questions.

"The President and senior Administration officials have said time and again that they were not aware of Operation Fast and Furious.

But executive privilege exists to protect deliberative communication with the President and senior staff.

The Administration cannot have it both ways.

"The President cannot claim on one hand that his senior staff knows nothing about the operation and then on the other assert executive privilege that implies senior advisors have knowledge about the program.

"I support Speaker Boehner's decision to vote on a contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder.

And I will continue to support efforts by Congress to find the facts about Operation Fast & Furious."

'Denies the truth'

Meanwhile, the family of the slain border patrol agent has expressed disappointment that after nearly two years, no one in either ATF or the DOJ has been held responsible for the botched gun smuggling operation that ultimately led to their son's death.

In response to the president's decision to invoke executive privilege, the Terry family issued the following statement:

"Attorney General Eric Holder's refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama's assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth.

"Our son, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, was killed by members of a Mexican drug cartel armed with weapons from this failed Justice Department gun trafficking investigation. For more than 18 months we have been asking our federal government for justice and accountability.

"The documents sought by the House Oversight Committee and associated with Operation Fast and Furious should be produced and turned over to the committee.

"Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious."