“Four years after asserting executive privilege to block Congress from obtaining documents relating to a controversial federal gun trafficking investigation, President Barack Obama relented Friday, turning over to lawmakers thousands of pages of records that led to unusual House votes holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein wrote on Friday.
Fast and Furious remains the only scandal over which this president has used executive privilege power to hide documents from congressional investigators. Obama did not use the highly controversial power in any other scandal, including the following: Benghazi, IRS, Department of Justice phone-tapping, Pigford, General Services Administration (GSA), Solyndra, LightSquared, or EPA administrator email aliases.
In the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, the Obama administration let guns “walk”–or be trafficked without surveillance or any plan to regain control of them–into the hands of Mexican drug cartel criminals. As many as 2,000 high-powered rifles walked into Mexico as part of the scheme, and they were used to kill many Mexican citizens and even U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Now, after House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) investigators have been litigating for years after Obama’s now former Attorney General Eric Holder was held in both criminal and civil contempt of Congress, the president has dropped his executive privilege claim over the documents. The civil contempt of Congress resolution sparked this lawsuit against the administration while the criminal contempt resolution would have led to charges against Holder, but the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia declined to press forward with prosecution. Holder has since resigned at Attorney General. Several other administration officials resigned over this scandal.
In January, a federal district court judge rejected Obama’s executive privilege claim over records detailing the Justice Department and White House’s response to Operation Fast and Furious, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation that may have allowed as many as 2,000 firearms to pass into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not turn down Obama’s privilege assertion on the merits. Instead, she said authorized public disclosures about the operation in a Justice Department inspector general report essentially mooted the administration’s drive to keep the records secret. Both sides had until midnight Friday to file an appeal. Instead, the Obama administration turned over a set of documents to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The Justice Department believes they won because the judge limited the scope of documents that the president has to turn over.