This week, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform filed a civil lawsuit seeking to circumvent President Obama's executive privilege claim and force the Department of Justice to hand over subpoenaed documents.
The filing is a follow-up to a June 28 resolution holding Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents about his department's response to the disastrous "Fast and Furious" operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The resolution passed by a bipartisan vote of 255 to 67.
Obama administration officials and the Department of Justice had openly defied the committee's legitimate requests for documents regarding one of the most deadly and disastrous fiascos in the history of American law enforcement, one which claimed the lives of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and I.C.E. agent Jaime Zapata. And in a historically unprecedented maneuver, President Obama claimed executive privilege to justify withholding Justice Department deliberations from a congressional subpoena.
According to a WallStreetJournal.com article this week, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)--chairman of the Oversight Committee--said the president exceeded his authority.
"Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the president's decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November's election," said Issa.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, says:
No Court has ever held that "Executive privilege" extends anywhere near as far as the Attorney General here contends that it does. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Attorney General's conception of the reach of "Executive privilege," were it to be accepted, would cripple congressional oversight of Executive branch agencies, to the very great detriment of the Nation and our constitutional structure. Accordingly, the Committee asks this Court to reject the Attorney General's assertion of "Executive privilege" and order him forthwith to comply with the Committee's subpoena.
Commenting on the documents that the Oversight Committee is trying to obtain, U.S. Rep.Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) said, according to an August 15 Newsmax.com article, "There is something either incriminating or very politically explosive in there or they wouldn't be fighting so hard to hold them back--and they wouldn't have called on President Obama to exert executive privilege at the last second."
Farenthold continued, "And the president has said publicly that he didn't know about Fast and Furious as it was going on. So it's pretty clear that he's either misleading us about what he knew or executive privilege doesn't apply."
The article further notes that Rep. Farenthold, who is on the Oversight Committee, said Monday's lawsuit evolved from the contempt citation.
"The House held the attorney general both in criminal and civil contempt. Under criminal contempt, the Justice Department, which is actually headed by Holder, is supposed to prosecute the case in federal court.
"Our fear, and it seems to have been well-founded, is the Justice Department wasn't going to act on the criminal contempt. So we moved ahead and filed a lawsuit to go into civil court to compel the attorney general to turn over the documents that we've been waiting months for."
Rep. Farenthold concluded, "It's not so much about Holder and the Justice Department and "Fast and Furious" at this point. This is a test of the oversight authority of Congress and our power to get documents from the Executive Branch. If we can't get the documents we need from the agencies that we create and fund, I think our Republic is in grave danger."