Expecting a vote Wednesday morning (yesterday) from the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on whether or not to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for Contempt of Congress, President Obama stepped in and declared Executive Privilege to protect Justice Department documents from disclosure.
President Obama took this action at the request of Attorney General Holder. You can read Holder's letter to the President here, dated June 19, 2012.
It was a botched gun-running operation now dubbed "Fast and Furious," that the the Oversight Committee was trying to get information about. Essentially, known criminals and members of Mexican cartels were allowed to purchase guns, even though it was illegal to do so.
While Holder turned over many of the documents requested, he also withheld several thousand pages, creating a stalemate between the Committee and the Attorney General's Office.
About Fast & Furious
For a clear and easy-to-read description of the Fast & Furious issue, the May 4, 2012 Memorandum to Members written by the Oversight Committee's Chairman Darrell Issa lays out all the facts. Download Issa's Memorandum here. If that 64 page document is a bit daunting in length, there is also a three page Fact Sheet.
There is a website about Fast & Furious with documents, videos and visuals.
Here are some info-graphics that also help to bring a clearer understanding to the issues.
Who are the Victims?
When did the key players know?
Download a larger PDF of these images in one document. These images are all from the Fast & Furious website.
The Documents in Dispute
So, what exactly are the documents they are arguing over? "Emails, interviews and witnesses," answered a spokesperson from Representative Paul Gosar's (AZ-1) office.
Representative Gosar is a member of the Oversight Committee. On December 12, 2011, Gosar introduced HR 490, a Resolution of No Confidence in U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Since then, 114 other Republican members of the House have signed on to the measure.
According to the Fact Sheet, published on June 11, 2012, documents already in the Committee's possession, "...indicate that senior officials in the Department’s Criminal Division were given details of the operation’s reckless tactics but still approved the applications."
"Having already obtained these documents, the contempt effort will focus on the Justice Department’s refusal to turn over documents from after February 4, 2011 – the date the Justice Department first denied accusations that reckless conduct occurred in Fast and Furious. The Obama Administration has not asserted Executive Privilege or any other valid privilege over these materials. They pertain to the Justice Department’s management, the treatment of whistleblowers, and why it took the Department nearly a year to retract false denials of reckless tactics."
Of course, as of June 20, 2012, the Obama Administration did go ahead and assert Executive Privilege over the materials, which will add more chaos to the disagreement between the House and the Administration.
In a New York Times article titled, 'House Panel’s Vote Steps Up Partisan Fight on Gun Inquiry,' Charlie Savage writes, "On Wednesday morning, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Mr. Issa that the president was claiming privilege over the documents because their disclosure would chill the candor of future internal deliberations... While there is little dispute that the privilege covers communications made directly to the president and among his White House advisers, it is far less clear that the privilege trumps Congress’s right to subpoena internal communications within an agency."
Representative Jeff Flake (AZ-6) posted on his personal Facebook page, "By invoking executive privilege on Fast and Furious documents, the President has elevated a scandal that has thus far been largely confined to the Department of Justice. Not a wise move on the President's part."
Now the measure goes to the entire House of Representatives for a vote. Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have announced that a vote will take place next week. Read Boenher's Press Statement, which was released Wednesday afternoon.
What Does Gosar Say?
Here is the Press Release from Gosar's office:
Rep. Gosar Votes to Send Contempt Charges to House Floor
Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar, D.D.S (R-AZ) released the following statement regarding the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s vote to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. These proceedings come after continuous delay by Holder and the Department of Justice to release subpoenaed documents from the reckless Operation Fast and Furious.
Gosar said today, "Mr. Holder continues in his latest actions to show his contempt for our constitutional rights, our border, Arizonans and all Americans by evading oversight. After months of stonewalling, excuses and half truths Mr. Holder has run out of time and second chances. I was pleased to cast my vote in committee to send to the floor of the motion to hold Mr. Holder in contempt for his actions and inaction with regard to Fast and Furious. 114 members of Congress have signed onto my Resolution of No Confidence (H.Res.490) in Mr. Holder. Now those same members and others will get to vote to hold him in contempt of Congress."
As the only member from Arizona on the committee for Oversight and Government Reform, Congressman Gosar has been a leading advocate for the victims of this horrible operation by demanding answers and justice. Gosar is the lead sponsor of H. Res. 490, a Resolution of No Confidence in the Attorney General which currently has 114 cosponsors.
Read Gosar's opening statement to the Committee here, or watch it on YouTube:
The Family of Brian Terry Releases a Statement
'Collateral damage' is always the most frustrating and difficult to accept. And in this case, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's death after being shot with one of the guns allowed to "walk" seems completely senseless. Since his death, Terry has become the face of tragedy called 'Fast & Furious'.
The Christian Science Monitor quoted Holder in November, 2011, as saying, "I regret what happened to [agent] Brian Terry, and I can only imagine the pain that his family has to deal with," Mr. Holder testified, when asked by Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas whether he wanted to apologize to Mr. Terry's family. "But it's not fair to say that the mistakes in Fast and Furious led directly to the death of Brian Terry."
After learning that President Obama had asserted Executive Privilege, the Terry family released the following statement through their family attorney Pat McGroder:
"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."
Of course, collateral damage has not been limited to the United States.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Mexico was not told about the 'Fast & Furious' operations, which have resulted in numerous deaths in that country. "In an interview with Times correspondents, Mexican Atty. Gen. Marisela Morales has previously said that her office was kept in the dark about Fast and Furious and that allowing weapons into Mexico would constitute 'an attack on the safety of Mexicans.'"