Up to today, the Fast and Furious scandal has been almost exclusively fought out in alternative media and Fox. With the exception of CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson, who has done stellar work on the scandal, the networks and big media have largely left the story alone. That has left Fast and Furious in its own universe, largely outside the presidential campaign and off the evening newscasts.
Obama’s assertion of executive privilege changes that dramatically. It has already forced MSNBC to start covering it as a news story. That’s a signal that NBC will cover the fight and that ABC will follow suit on evening newscasts. The New York Times and Washington Post will be forced to cover it as well. They will spin it, of course, playing up the partisan angles and playing down the deaths of two US agents and hundreds of Mexicans, but they have to cover it.
Mitt Romney will now have to comment on it, at least to note that the president who promised transparency has now abandoned that promise entirely. He may also note other parts of the scandal, and it will be easy for super PACs to turn this into a campaign issue. Obama and his allied super PACs may be forced to defend what the president has done. Fast and Furious has now been turned up to 11 as a media and campaign story.
One would think that this would be the last thing the president who is already facing a tough re-election battle would want. He is underwater on job approval, the economy is threatening to shed jobs — not just slow growth, but actually shed jobs — and now this. What could the president possibly be thinking?
Asserting executive privilege is fairly rare among presidents: President George W. Bush asserted it six times in eight years, and President Clinton asserted it 14 times in eight years. Obama’s first assertion of executive privilege is today’s, but it concerns what has up to now been a department-level scandal. Asserting executive privilege in this case tears down the wall between the White House and Fast and Furious for the first time.
The president is doing any and perhaps all of the following things. He may be protecting both Eric Holder and David Axelrod. Holder has given conflicting testimony on Fast and Furious, testimony that has conflicted with the president’s own statements and has forced retractions. Holder and Axelrod, according to Holder, have held meetings. Axelrod denies. It is very unusual for an attorney general to hold political meetings with presidential political advisers. Attorney general is a constitutional office, and is supposed to represent the United States, not necessarily the president’s particular political preferences. Did the Holder-Axelrod meetings really occur, as Holder testified that they did? If they did, what was discussed in those meetings, and what led up to them, and what actions resulted from them? The subpoenaed documents may shed some light on this, so the president is forced to hide them via executive privilege, at a minimum to conceal proof that either Axelrod or Holder have lied.