Executive Privilege Hypocrisy
As a presidential candidate in 2007, Barack Obama accused former president George W. Bush of abusing executive privilege to insulate his GOP administration from embarrassment. On Wednesday (June 20), however, Obama himself invoked executive privilege to thwart a congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious that led to the death of a Border Patrol agent at the hands of violent Mexican drug runners.
“There’s been a tendency on the part of this administration to—to try to hide behind executive privilege every time there’s something a little shaky that’s taking place,” Obama said in a CNN interview. “And I think... the administration would be best served by coming clean on this.”
Candidate Obama supported efforts by Democrats to drum up contempt charges against Bush adviser Karl Rove, along with subpoenas which would have compelled Bush's Department of Justice to disgorge documents related to Bush's (constitutionally legitimate) firing of several U.S. attorneys.
But when it comes to his own DOJ, President Obama's good-government zeal seems to have vanished.
All of which has led Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Ca), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to excoriate Attorney General Eric Holder for his failure to cooperate with an investigation of Fast and Furious.
On Wednesday the Obama administration claimed executive privilege in its efforts to protect Holder from the politically-radioactive fallout of the mushrooming Operation Fast and Furious scandal, which saw ATF agents look on and do nothing while automatic weapons were bought by illegal purchasers in Arizona gun shop, transported to Mexico into the waiting hands of the drug cartels. One of those guns was subsequently used to kill Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Executive privilege allows the White House to withhold documents which pertain to administration activities – and raises questions about President Obama's knowledge of Fast and Furious. Obama claims he learned of the program only after a whistleblower alerted his administration to the failed operation two years ago.
Democrats on Issa's oversight committee rushed to protect the president.
“I am horrified that you are going forward with this contempt charge when the president of the United States and the administration have invoked executive privilege,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., NY) said.
But six years ago in 2006, Maloney had no qualms about leveling similar charges against the Bush administration, after the New York Times disclosed that it had been monitoring bank activities in its efforts to clamp down on terrorist funding – without consulting congress.
“The Administration has kept us in the dark,” she said.
Maloney is hardly the only Democrat to revise for political expedience her interpretation of state secrets and executive privilege now that a Democrat is in the oval office. Vice President Joe Biden led efforts to hold Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to turn over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Executive privilege protects certain communications between the President and his top advisers. It doesn’t shield criminal conduct, it can’t thwart Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility, and ... it’s not an absolute, blanket protection from answering Congress’ questions,” Biden said, correctly, in 2007.
Democrat party efforts to charge Rove ultimately came to nothing. Six years later, House Republicans are pushing contempt charges against Eric Holder.
“This untimely assertion by the Justice Department falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings,” Issa said. Were the occupant of the White House not of their own party, we're sure today's Democrats would agree.