Bloomberg News

Issa Challenges Obama Privilege Claim in Gun Operation

June 26, 2012

A U.S. House committee chairman challenged President Barack Obama’s decision to assert executive privilege over documents related to a federal gun operation.

Documents demanded by lawmakers were produced “between and among” U.S. Justice Department personnel and aren’t subject to an executive privilege claim, said California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a letter to Obama yesterday. Executive privilege only covers communications to and from the president and his senior advisers, he said.

The U.S. House is preparing to vote on June 28 on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the gun documents in a law enforcement operation called Fast and Furious, according to a Republican leadership aide who asked to speak on condition of anonymity.

Issa has been investigating the operation, which allowed illegal gun purchases in the U.S. an an effort to link the weapons to Mexican drug cartels. The U.S. lost track of firearms and they turned up at crime scenes in Mexico. Holder has said that when he learned about the operation, he halted use of the tactics and asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

Executive privilege is a principle that says the executive branch can’t be required by Congress to disclose confidential communications when they would harm the operations of the White House.

Internal Discussions

The House panel is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information.

The Justice Department says it already has provided more than 7,600 pages of documents in the case.

The president’s executive privilege assertion is consistent with executive branch precedent spanning three decades, said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman.

“The courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved,” Schultz said.

Either Obama and his senior advisers were involved in Fast and Furious or “you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation,” Issa said.

“I remain hopeful that the attorney general will produce the specified documents so that we can work towards resolving this matter short of a contempt citation,” Issa said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Seth Stern in Washington at sstern14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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