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White House Asserts Privilege in ‘Fast & Furious’ Fight With Congress [Updated]

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 07: Attorney General Eric Holder testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. Oversight members will be hearing testimony on the initiatives of the U.S. Department of Justice. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Obama Administration is claiming executive privilege in its escalating fight with Congress over the "Fast and Furious" gun scandal. House Republicans, led by Darrell Issa, are threatening dire consequences for Attorney General Eric Holder if he doesn't hand over documents pertaining to the botched ATF operation that let drug cartels take thousands of guns from the U.S. to Mexico — the governmental equivalent of a fourth prodding e-mail to Holder, one reading something like "Hey! Just checking in on this. Again." The White House's response amounts to: "Right click > Junk Mail > Block sender."

The Journal reports:

Messrs. Issa and Holder met Tuesday for 20 minutes. From their accounts, it has become a game of chicken, with each side insisting the other act first to resolve the standoff.

The rules around Congressional contempt proceedings are complex; legislators are supposed to refer charges to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who happens to work for Holder. When Karl Rove faced a similar situation during the Bush Administration, the U.S. Attorney chose not to enforce the contempt sanctions.

Claiming executive privilege is a pretty standard move for modern presidents in disputes with Congress — George W. Bush and Clinton both invoked it multiple times. (Members of the party that doesn't occupy the White House, like a certain former Senator from Illinois, invariably denounce executive privilege.) But today's maneuver is the first time that the Obama administration has gone there, and it certainly raises the stakes for what has been a fairly low-level scandal, albeit one that Republicans have vigorously pursued for years.

Fox News reported that Issa will push forward with his Oversight and Government Reform Committee's vote to hold Holder in contempt, and said that "[e]ven for Washington, the tone at the hearing was decidedly bitter and accusatory."

Update: The committee has indeed now found Holder in contempt.  The vote went according to party lines, with all Republicans voting to censure Holder thusly. Now, the full House will deliberate on whether a special prosecutor or U.S. attorney should be charged with forcing the administration to turn over the internal Fast and Furious documentation in question, but that probably won't be the end of things — the Obama administration will, in turn, probably bring the thorny constitutional conflict over when exactly executive privilege can be invoked to the courts.


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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images