Ahead of today’s expected House committee vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with its Fast and Furious subpoena, the attorney general has requested that the White House assert executive privilege over those documents. Moments ago, the White House approved executive privilege over those documents. The documents covered by the executive privilege are those related to the February 2011 Justice letter to Congress regarding Fast and Furious, later rescinded due to numerous factual inaccuracies, along with the 90% of subpoenaed documents that Holder has failed to turn over.
This move now draws the White House directly into Fast and Furious. It may not prevent the House from moving forward with the contempt vote for Holder.
The political appointee who penned the February 2011 letter retired one week ago.
More: Presidents typically assert executive privilege over their own communications, and over sensitive military and security-related communications. Today’s move to grant executive privilege over what thus far appears to be a department-level scandal is highly unusual.
Update: Rep. Darrell Issa is moving forward on the contempt vote. He is reading the resolution into the record at this moment.
Update: Fox reports—
Obama’s decision pertains to documents from February 2011 and afterward examining how Justice officials learned about the Fast and Furious probe.
Holder, in his letter to Obama, said those documents pertain to the “deliberative process” on how to respond to congressional and media inquiries.
Update: In the landmark case that spells out presidential executive privilege, United States vs Nixon (1974), the Supreme Court found that executive privilege pertains to communications directly with the president, and otherwise limited the scope of executive privilege. Today’s move by the White House implies either that Fast and Furious reaches directly into the Oval Office, or that the White House is challenging the Nixon ruling. Either way, today’s assertion is a major escalation of the scandal.
Update: Holder’s lifeline letter to the president requesting executive privilege is embedded here.
Update: Is the White House protecting Obama adviser David Axelrod in this? Last week Axelrod denied having meetings with Attorney General Holder, but Holder testified under oath in Congress that such meetings took place. If Axelrod and Holder met and discussed Fast and Furious in 2011, the time period covered by the contempt resolution, then the executive privilege assertion may be an effort to shield Axelrod.
Update: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is asking some very pointed questions.
“How can the president assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement? How can the president exert executive privilege over documents he’s supposedly never seen? Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme? The contempt citation is an important procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances,” he said.
Update: Asserting executive privilege has forced MSNBC to cover Fast and Furious. Kelly O’Donnell spent about half a minute describing the scandal, which she described as a gunrunning scandal that resulted in the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of Mexican citizens. She left out ICE Agent Jaime Zapata, whose murder is also suspected of being connected to Fast and Furious.
Update: Check the Scuttlebutt over on the Tatler’s right hand side. I’ve posted several interesting video flashbacks related to Fast and Furious.
Update: One week ago, AG Holder claimed under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Bush AG Michael Mukasey knew about Fast and Furious. Today, Holder has reportedly retracted that claim.
Which was made under oath.
Update: PJM’s Andrew McCarthy weighs in on Obama’s executive privilege move. PJM’s Bridget Johnson is covering the hearings on the Hill today and will have more here and on the front page.