Attorney General Defends Against Charges Brought by House GOP over Weapons Trafficking Initiatives
Eric Holder has spent a good deal of his career opposite criminal defense attorneys, first as Deputy Attorney General, then as United States Attorney General. Now, however, the head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) may soon need his own defense attorney – to fight the civil contempt charge leveled at him by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.
This stems from Holder’s refusal to produce documents relating to the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking or “gun-walking” sting operation. This operation had been run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) between 2009 and 2011. The ATF hoped that by selling weapons to known or alleged smugglers in Arizona it could then track them to major Mexican drug and weapons traffickers.
Federal agents had previously experimented with gun-walking in Arizona, in 3 investigations during the Bush administration, and had lost track of several hundred weapons during those operations. It was determined, by the obvious, that gun-walking was a high-risk business.
But that did not deter the ATF. During Operation Fast and Furious its Phoenix Field Office lost roughly 2000 guns. Then in December 2010 a U.S. Border Patrol Agent was murdered with one of those missing guns. And the guns have been linked to dozens of other crimes in Mexico and Arizona as well.
In the wake of this botched operation Congress subpoenaed all DOJ records regarding Fast And Furious. Holder objected to the subpoena and refused to hand over the documents. He sought President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege to prevent their disclosure. At Holder’s refusal to turn over the documents, the Oversight Committee filed suit, charging Holder with civil contempt of Congress.
The resolution of the civil contempt claim asked a federal judge to:
- declare Obama’s executive privilege claim invalid
- reject Holder’s objection to the House records subpoena
- direct the Attorney General to produce all records related to the DOJ’s incorrect assertion that gun-walking did not take place
It should be noted: the DOJ did produce roughly 7,600 pages of documentation, while attempting to reach a compromise with the Oversight Committee. Many have expressed the opinion that this lawsuit is fueled only by partisan motivations.
The lawsuit alleges the administration’s position cripples congressional oversight of executive branch agencies. The DOJ previously had said it would not bring criminal charges against the head of its own department, while Democrats labeled the entire contempt citation procedure as a political stunt. Numerous lawmakers have said that this is the first time in U.S. history a Cabinet official has been held in contempt of Congress.
The lawsuit alleges the administration’s position of executive privilege is “legally baseless”. Historically, executive privilege has been asserted over two distinct categories of documents. The first, known as presidential communication, covers only the president’s own documents and those of his top aides preparing advice for him. The second, known as deliberative process, covers a wider category of administration officials, even if they are not working on something specifically for the president, but it requires a stronger justification for privilege to be attached.
The lawsuit filed Monday asserts three legal grounds for the challenge to the executive privilege claim:
- the privilege was asserted indirectly by the deputy attorney general in a letter Congress earlier this year
- the documents do not involve any advice to the president
- the department’s actions do not involve core constitutional functions of the president
The lawsuit asserts the documents, if produced, “would enable the committee (and the American people) to understand how and why the department provided false information to Congress and otherwise obstructed the committee’s concededly legitimate investigation.”