Wednesday, June 20, 2012
The President today formally asserted executive privilege in the ongoing dispute between the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and AG Eric Holder related to the Committee's subpoena for documents from Holder related to Fast and Furious. The move comes as the Committee is considering a contempt resolution against AG Holder for withholding documents related to the Department of Justice's investigation into the program and its reaction to Committee and media inquiries.
The move means that the contempt resolution by the Committee will have even less effect in ultimately producing any documents than it might have had before the assertion of privilege. (And it's not clear that the resolution would have had any effect, anyway.) If past practice is any guide, the invocation of executive privilege ensures that the Department of Justice will not prosecute for criminal contempt. (Recall that the contempt resolution, as of yesterday, refers the matter to the US Attorney for D.C., and apparently does not seek authority for the Committee or the House to pursue a civil judgment in federal court.)
AG Holder asked President Obama to invoke executive privilege in this letter yesterday. In the letter, AG Holder writes that he is
very concerned that compelled production to Congress of internal Executive Branch documents generated in the course of the deliberative process concerning its response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries would have significant, damaging consequences: It would inhibit the candor of such Executive Branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the Executive Branch's ability to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight. This would raise substantial separation of powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship between these two co-equal branches of the Government.
AG Holder wrote that the Committee's interest in the material didn't meet the standard to overcome an assertion of executive privilege--"demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment of the Committee's functions," Select Comm. on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725, 731 (D.C. Cir. 1974)--because it's not obviously related to a legislative function of the Committee, because the Department already substantially complied with the Committee's requests, and because an internal IG investigation should assuage any congressional concerns that the Department is attempting to conceal important facts.
Deputy AG James Cole wrote this letter to Representative Issa, summarizing AG Holder's legal analysis and reporting that the President had formally invoked the privilege.