FAILS TO DELIVER REQUESTED DOCUMENTS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 20, 2012) — Obama has reportedly claimed “executive privilege” over documents subpoenaed by House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in an apparent attempt to forestall a vote scheduled for 10:00 a.m. today on whether or not to cite putative Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress.
Holder has testified numerous times in front of the House committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee but has refused to turn over 70,000 pages of documents related to the “Fast & Furious” gunrunning operation carried out by the ATF.
Last week, several U.S. Senators called for Holder’s resignation.
Obama has been criticized since taking office for extending the reach of the Executive Branch too far.
Contempt discussions are being held now on C-Span.
At 10:48 a.m. EDT, Rep. Carolyn Maloney was decrying attacks on the “chief law enforcement officer” of the United States, referring to Eric Holder. Maloney stated that the committee was not concentrating enough on government reform and accused Darrell Issa of “cutting her off” when she tried to “help law enforcement officers” about problems on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I am offended personally by your calling the Attorney General a liar, Maloney said. “It’s extremely disrespectful…and you’ve called me a liar. Where have we degenerated to in calling names…not acting on reforms…but merely degenerating to attacking people and moving forward with paperwork which is unwarranted, unfair, and violates the laws of the United States of America?” she said.
Rep. John Mica of Florida’s Seventh Congressional District stated that Maloney was “wrong” in saying that Holder was the first attorney general to face contempt of Congress and cited an instance in the Bush administration in which Michael Mukasey was threatened with contempt. Mica called Fast & Furious a scheme that went “unbelievably sour.” He stated that for eight months, Holder had denied knowledge of the operation. “At the last hour, last night, they offered a deal to offer us some information and close down the case. This is absolutely absurd,” Mica said. He said that exerting “executive privilege” was “indeed an injustice” to Congress and the people. He mentioned Obama by name regarding the claim of executive privilege and stated that constitutionally, the committee is entitled to the information it had requested. “I didn’t think this could go on in the United States of America,” Mica said.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, DC stated that she had a question but the chairman interrupted her when she actually made a statement. She then rephrased her statement to recap the opening statements of Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings. Norton asked Issa, “Considering that no cabinet official has ever been held to be in contempt of Congress, if this matter gets to the floor of the house, it would then be referred to a Democratic U.S. attorney when this committee referred similar matters to ultimately a Republican U.S. attorney; no action was taken. if we are interested in resolution, understanding that is the likely final result, I would ask you to reconsider what appears to be an offer from the attorney general, not a demand…that if presented these documents which he believes he did not have to present, that you in turn agree to engage and continue in discussion and negotiations…It seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that that would be the reasonable thing to do.
At 11:00 a.m., Issa responded that there is no “executive assertion” in the House. Issa stated that he had expected to postpone today’s contempt hearing and that he had staffers on duty “all night” in the event that Holder delivered the requested documents.
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings asked Norton to yield and stated that Holder had understood at last night’s meeting that the investigation in to Fast & Furious would continue. Norton responded that she thought more discussion was needed. “If the contempt is voted already, we’ve ended that possibility,” she said.
Issa thanked Norton and Cummings for their comments.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah spoke next and quoted Obama as saying that he would be held “to a new standard of openness…” He cited the letter which was found to be “false,” that Obama is now exerting executive privilege and that 31 Democrats sent a letter to Obama to “urge” the Department of Justice to cooperate in the investigation. “This is not about Eric Holder…we have hundreds of dead people in Mexico…we have a dead border patrol agent…something is fundamentally wrong,” Chaffetz said. He criticized Holder for not turning over all of the documents requested and stated that he and Issa wished to conclude the investigation. “We have not gotten to the bottom of this…we have a moral obligation to get to the bottom of this…It’s not about Eric Holder; it’s about the United States Department of Justice.” He urged the committee to pass the resolution to cite Holder for contempt.
Rep. Edolphus Towns from New York’s Tenth District was next and stated that holding the attorney general in contempt was “unprecedented.” He stated “In all of my 30 years of being in the United States Congress,…I’ve never seen anybody treated in that fashion,” referring to Holder’s testimony. “I think this is a major mistake, and I really want you to know that this should be discontinued,” Towns said. “It’s a discredit to this committee…and I don’t see reforming anything here. I just don’t get the point, and it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my years of being on this committee.”
At 11:12 a.m., Rep. Maloney spoke again and expressed agreement with Rep. Towns and cited Holder’s offer to try to “make an offer to continue discussions.” She stated that the committee had never cited a “cabinet officer” for contempt. She then yielded back to Rep. Towns.
Issa responded that there was a vote on holding former Attorney General Janet Reno in contempt.
Maloney responded, “Even Newt Gingrich wouldn’t hold a contempt vote against Janet Reno.”
Rep. Connie Mack of Florida’s 14th District spoke next. “It is the duty of this committee to get to the bottom of this,” Mack said, after mentioning the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. He stated that some people would rather “use legalese” to come to a resolution than turn over the requested documents. “I want to point out that there are a lot of troubling signs in this case,” he said. He then mentioned the “Arms Export Control Act” which requires permission for firearms to be transported across the U.S.-Mexico border. He stated that he asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if permission had been granted to transfer the guns and that Clinton responded, “Congressman,…I can tell you based on the record…we see no evidence, but let me check.” Mack stated that “We owe it to the people of this country to get to the bottom of this.”
At 11:22 a.m., Rep. Dennis Kucinich said that when there is a conflict between the Legislative branch and Executive Branch, the committee would have to go to a court before taking a vote. He asked Issa if he were prepared to “seek a court order for the production of the records prior to having this committee act on the provision of contempt.”
Issa responded that the committee is “concurrent evaluating and trying to get from the White House” a log of documents. “It is our intent, if the president produces a privileged log…it would be my intention to carve that out of the contempt so as to send a clean contempt order to the floor…” Issa said. “Our intent is to get the document.”
Kucinich asked if Issa were willing to postpone the contempt vote to wait for the White House to produce the log of documents which it will not release. Kucinich likened a contempt vote to a “Titanic-like” occurrence in light of Issa’s “patience” to date.
Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan, where slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry grew up, stated that “the Attorney General believes that he is the arbiter” of the committee’s needs. He cited the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. “Still, the attorney general and his deputies have repeated this position again and again in the last week,” he said, and called Holder’s statements “evolving truth.” He said that Holder was violating “federal law” by withholding the documents covered by the subpoena. “This is the problem of evolving truth. On the other hand, the committee has gone to great lengths…to avoid today’s vote,” he said. Walberg said that the committee has carried out interviews in place of reviewing documents. “It seems we are out of options. The Attorney General has not produced one single document since the vote was announced,” he said. “That’s unprecedented,” he added, stating that Holder seems unwilling to work with the committee.
Maloney asked that Holder’s comments be placed in the official record and Issa objected.
Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts’ Sixth District then spoke, stating that the committee had “come a long way” in determining “what went wrong” with Fast & Furious. He likened the committee’s current hearing to that which involved Michael Mukasey mentioned earlier, stating that requests for “highly sensitive” information were made then and now of Holder. He said that Issa “moved the goal posts” in his demands of Holder. He echoed other Democrats’ statements that “reform” is not taking place and that Chairman Issa would not allow certain questions. “There is a duty in the Constitution to accommodate each other…the executive branch and legislative branch,” Tierney said.
Rep. John Lankford of Oklahoma’s Fifth District was then given the floor. He stated that the Department of Justice has “internally reviewed 80,000 documents” but has turned over approximately 7,000 to the committee. He stated that “no U.S. attorney” would allow the Justice Department to review its own documents and then withhold them. He asked why Holder is using the documents as “a negotiating tool” and questioned information they contain which could be “incriminating.” He referenced the February 4, 2011 letter which stated that guns were not walked to Mexico by the ATF, a letter which was retracted when proof was shown that the DOJ had knowledge of the operation. “We need to answer the following questions: who authorized this operation…who will be held responsible for misconduct?” Lankford said. “Truth and veracity is essential in government.” He then referred to recent national security leaks.
Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri’s First District spoke at 11:43 a.m. He said that sometimes members of Congress become “overzealous.” He said that “The test of leadership is not about sticking to the plan…Successful leaders re-evaluate; they recognize when it’s time to change course…when it’s time to admit when they’re wrong.” He said that he was “pleased” when the committee narrowed the scope of its requests of documentation from Holder. He claimed that the committee majority had presumed that the administration was guilty, “accusing the president of being ‘the most corrupt president in history.'” He said that scandals had been predicted and investigated but invalidated. “Regulations were not job-killing; government employees were not creating deficits,” Clay said. “The one so-called scandal that seemed to take hold, at least in the press…was Fast & Furious…by exploiting a tragedy,” he said.
Clay said that gunrunning began in the Bush administration and that Holder “ended it.” He stated that the majority had brought the committee “down this blind alley” and that Fast & Furious was “not a scandal and not a coverup.”
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle of New York’s 25th District (upstate) next spoke, and she said that the Department of Justice had “failed” to deliver the necessary information the committee needed. She stated that her constituents often ask her who would be held accountable for the death of Brian Terry. She called Holder’s actions “reprehensible.” “If he wanted to provide the requested documents, he would have done so already,” she said. “Leaders must lead; they must take responsibility for the good and the bad.” She said that the lack of transparency is “sickening.” She asked why the DOJ was “stonewalling this investigation.” “What is he hiding?”
Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia’s 11th District likened the proceedings of the committee to a “kangaroo court” with a verdict that had already been decided. He stated that information had been “controlled” and committed “character assassination” against Holder. “If this were a genuine attempt to make sure that the Terry family had closure, we’d have an open investigation,” he said and stated that Mukasey should be called to be a witness to the previous operation, “Wide Receiver,” carried out during the Bush years.
“Nowhere have we had a hearing on whether or not our gun laws are sufficient to address the overwhelming flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico,” Connolly said. He stated that the president of Mexico had said that reinstituting the “assault weapons ban” would be a solution. He said, “We need tougher gun control enforcement…” and claimed that the ATF doesn’t want strict enforcement. He characterized Holder as an honorable man fighting voting violations and other injustices.
Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania’s Seventh District, who was formerly a U.S. attorney, agreed that today is a “sad day.” He noted that Brian Terry had been “shot with one of those guns” which had been used in Fast & Furious. He stated that Sen. Charles Grassley, who had conducted his own investigation, was refused information from the start. He stated that “intimidation” was occurring against whistleblowers and that the Asst. Attorney General invoked his Fifth Amendment rights rather than testify. He said, “This goes to the highest levels” in the Justice Department and cited the reversal of the contentions of the February 4, 2011 letter. “The facts are leading us to very legitimate inquiries,” he said. “Under what circumstances did people approve it?” he said. “There’s a great deal more here…”
Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts’ Ninth District claimed that the “seriousness of purpose” in finding how Brian Terry died had “morphed” into a search for documents regarding the “false letter” of February 4, 2011 which “had denied the fact of gunwalking by the Justice Department.” He said that the false statements came from the Phoenix, AZ office of the ATF. “If we were pursuing the truth, we might call the folks of the Phoenix office of the ATF before this committee…” and cited that Kenneth Melson also was never brought before the committee. He claimed that the committee “didn’t want to hear the truth.” He referred to “Wide Receiver” but said, “We don’t want to know about that because that would get in the way of our contempt proceedings against Eric Holder,” Lynch said. He said that the committee had been “very partisan” and “been made a political issue to disgrace the sitting attorney general” and “ignored the facts.” “We’re not asking the right people,” he contended.
Issa responded that Holder has retracted the statement that former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had known about Wide Receiver. Lynch argued with Issa but yielded back to Issa, at which time Issa stated that Kenneth Melson was interviewed “for two days.” “Ultimately, if you have taken, or will take the time to read…you’ll discover that we’ve left no stone unturned,” Issa said.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio’s Fourth District stated that “executive privilege” from the White House indicated a contradiction of a statement made by Holder previously that he and the White House had not conferred about Fast & Furious. Jordan stated that the committee “needs facts” so as to make a decision on Holder.
At 12:15 p.m., Rep. Jason Quigley of Illinois’s Fifth District (Chicago), asked “What’s our motivation today?…Don’t try to argue and make the point that you’re out there to protect an agent’s safety if the vast numbers are on the other side.” He said that they need to “have guts” to “do the right thing.”
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona’s First District stated that “political bantering” had been taking place and that finding Holder in contempt of Congress was “long overdue.” He stated that 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have voiced “no confidence” in Holder. “I continue to believe that Attorney General Eric Holder brought this upon himself by refusing to cooperate with Congress,” he said.
Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois’ Seventh District referred to the United States’ form of government as a “constitutional democracy” and contended that the committee had failed to uphold its constitutional responsibility. He stated that the committee had asked for documents which Holder cannot “by law” release which included “grand jury” materials and “criminal prosecutions.”
He said that Issa had made his “first step” at accommodation last Friday by narrowing the documents he would accept from Holder. Davis claimed that the Department of Justice had made accommodations to the committee and “made 26 individuals available” for testimony. He stated that the DOJ had acknowledged the inaccuracies of the February 4 letter and provided documentation. Davis accused Issa of accusing Holder of obstructing information as “part of a fishing expedition to support this unsubstantiated allegations.” “I hope the American people will see this as a witch hunt, as political activity, and not the legitimate interest of getting to the truth,” he said.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee’s Fourth District said that it now appears that the cover-up of information regarding Fast & Furious “goes into the White House.” “It’s past time for the attorney general to produce the documents,” he said. DesJarlais said he is a freshman in Congress and that he is now aware that if action is not taken on the contempt measure this year, it will have to be restarted with the new Congress next year.
Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont was next and stated that he believes that the committee should “lay the foundation” that a contempt citation is appropriate “at this time,” but that the committee had not yet done that. He hearkened back to Wide Receiver to “get the complete picture.” He stated that the initial subpoena, which he thought was “overbroad,” was revised last Friday, but that “there are many of us, while we strongly support oversight…many of us feel the foundation for this contempt has not been laid.”
Issa responded that “nothing stops the administration” from turning over documents from the previous action, Wide Receiver, carried out under President Bush. He stated that both cases were “poorly executed” and that he limited discovery in Fast & Furious. “We’ve narrowed contempt; we have not narrowed our need to get information. The vast material that we have not gotten we believe is not protected because of some ongoing criminal investigations,” Issa said.
Welch responded that he agreed that a “Privilege Log” of documents not being turned over should be obtained. He stated that Cummings and Issa understand things differently and mentioned bringing people in “from the Bush administration.” Welch asked if a vote needed to be taken “today.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina’s Fourth District referred to the nation as a “republic” and said that Fast & Furious was “fundamentally flawed.” Raising his voice, Gowdy said that “senior-level officials in Washington, DC” knew about Brian Terry’s death and “actively discussed the act of gunwalking” prior to Terry’s death. He emotionally cited the “demonstrably false letter” from the Department of Justice and that answers to “fundamental questions” still have not been provided. He said his constituents ask him how the false letter “was drafted.” “Why was the criminal chief of the Department of Justice advocating for gunwalking in Mexico on exactly the same day that” the false letter was sent to Sen. Grassley. “Either we have a right tot he documents, and we should get all of them, or we have no business here,” Gowdy said. He then said that if Obama did not “know about” the wiretap applications and the gunwalking, then “he’s got no business asserting executive privilege.”
Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky’s Third District of Louisville said that he thought public perception of the hearing might be “a default position,” wherein partisan votes on the contempt citation would be made. He stated that he was “strongly supportive of the prerogatives of this institution” but believed that “much of the information” was beyond reach and would reduce the vote to partisan politics.
Issa asked Yarmuth to yield and stated that information coming to the committee which cannot be made public must still be acted upon. He thanked the committee for keeping secret “everything that should have been kept secret.” He then yielded back to Yarmuth, who yielded to Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Norton then said that “the executive has often invoked” executive privilege in certain situations.
Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida’s 12th District took the floor and stated that Eric Holder has failed to take responsibility for the death of Brian Terry and many deaths in Mexico. He apologized to the American people for Holder and stated that the committee has a responsibility to investigate. He differentiated between Wide Receiver and Fast & Furious. He said he supports the contempt citation against Holder and that the Obama regime has continued to blame the Bush administration for gunwalking. “When are we going to stop the blame and look for accountability? he asked.
Gowdy then retook the floor and emotionally said that anyone with knowledge of gunwalking from any administration should come forward.
Rep. Jackie Speier of California’s 12th District said she agreed with Gowdy and said an “entire investigation” of the ATF should be carried out. She called the ATF “cowboys” and contended that their activities are not known “at the highest levels of government.” She claimed that “we are continuing to aid and abet the cartels in Mexico” and linked it to “gun ownership.” She said that no one “needs an AK-47 in this country, but you can get one anywhere, except California.”
Speier was asked, “Then don’t you want to see the documents?” and she responded that “there is no cover-up here” and appeared to blame the ATF with the assumption that officials at the DOJ were unaware of Fast & Furious. She then yielded the remainder of her time to Ranking Member Cummings.
Cummings then said that he believed Holder made a “reasonable offer.” “I don’t think for one minute that he’s trying to hide anything,” Cummings said.
New Hampshire Representative Frank Guinta of the First District then spoke, asking who within the Justice Department knew about Fast & Furious and said that Obama’s executive privilege claim calls into question when Obama might have known about it. [Editor’s Note: Guinta has been asked to advance a charge of treason against Obama from his constituent, New Hampshire State Rep. Harry Accornero.] Guinta stated that he hoped that the committee could “obtain facts” about their inquiry and cited that “only 7,600” pages of perhaps 80,000-140,000 pages requested had been released, it raises the question as to why “very limited information” has been presented since February.
Rep. Raul Labrador of Utah’s First District spoke next, asking, “What did this administration know, and when did they know it?” Labrador asked Issa if it were true if Issa was expected to take “contempt off the table” in order to produce further documentation. When Issa answered in the affirmative, Labrador said “I don’t find that reasonable.” He said that Holder has an obligation to testify truthfully to Congress and that Holder has “a troubling pattern” of lack of cooperating with the Legislative Branch. Labrador characterized Holder as guilty of “a historical pattern of willful ignorance.” “Never in my life have I been met with a man so unconcerned with a search fort he truth,” Labrador read from a statement. “Mr. Holder is either not telling the truth, or he’s grossly incompetent,” said Labrador.
Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold of the 27th District asked why the committee should “wait,” as called for by “the other side.” He said that it has been 30 years since he went to law school, but that the scope of “executive privilege” is “very narrow.” He said he is concerned that the discussions was turning into a “partisan” affair. He said that the committee had pledged to get to the bottom of the Terry death. He said that discussion of strengthening gun laws was “a red herring.” He said that the committee had a constitutional responsibility to investigate the crime. He cited the “cover-up” as being worse than the “crime.” “The American people do not tolerate being lied to…”
Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s Third District said that “the American people” should be complimented for their patience. He said that the discussion had to do with Holder as the “chief law enforcement officer of the United States,” not Holder personally. He said that “there is something basically flawed” when the attorney general could not provide answers. He cited one handwritten page having been released just before Holder’s meeting with Issa on Tuesday night and that more information on Wide Receiver has been released than on Fast & Furious. “If you did this in the private sector, you would be held in contempt of court,” Kelly said. He said the committee was “forced to come to this.” “What is so damning in those documents that they cannot be released?” he asked.
At 1:21 p.m., Issa announced a recess until 1:30 p.m. and recognized the clerk of the committee’s birthday today.
At 1:24 p.m., a recap of the day’s events on C-Span came on and announced telephone numbers which can be called for the public to make comments.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.