Obama Blocks Release of Fast and Furious Documents after Republicans Threaten Holder with Contempt
Friday, June 22, 2012
President Barack Obama on Wednesday blocked the release of documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun controversy, setting up a showdown with House Republicans who may vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.
Republicans have sought thousands of documents about the program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which resulted in guns—including semiautomatic rifles—falling into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Holder has turned over 7,600 documents to a congressional oversight committee, while withholding thousands that could indicate who in the administration knew and approved of the program.
Fed up with Holder’s stonewalling, Republicans on the committee voted to recommend that the attorney general be held in contempt for not complying with House subpoenas. The committee vote could lead to the full House voting next week on whether to find Holder in contempt, which would be a first for a sitting attorney general.
Immediately after the committee vote, Obama asserted his power of executive privilege to prevent more documents from being released to Congress.
It is hardly the first time that a Congressional committee has held a member of the executive branch in contempt.
In November 1975, for example, the House Select Committee on Intelligence cited Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after President Gerald Ford refused to share information relating to covert military activities and arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. A compromise was reached.
In 2008, the House Judiciary Committee held presidential advisor Karl Rove in contempt for refusing a subpoena to testify on the record about whether he influenced the prosecution of former Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges, but the full House never acted on the case.
In a rare example of a contempt citation actually leading to serious consequences, in 1983 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce charged Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle with contempt of Congress after she refused to testify regarding the awarding of hazardous waste cleanup grants. She was acquitted, but later spent time in prison after being convicted of lying to Congress.
In the Holder case, Democrats accused Republicans of gamesmanship and trying to score points for the upcoming presidential election. If that’s the case, some observers said, then the move could backfire by distracting attention from Mitt Romney’s message of blaming Obama for the weak economy.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
White House Sends ‘Gun-Walking’ Docs Down the Memory Hole (by Robert Beckhusen, Wired)
House Panel’s Vote Steps Up Partisan Fight on Gun Inquiry (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)
Fast and Furious Brawl Blows Up (by Jake Sherman and Reid Epstein, Politico)
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