Attorney General Eric Holder and his Department of Justice have asked a federal court to indefinitely delay a lawsuit brought by watchdog group Judicial Watch. The lawsuit seeks the enforcement of open records requests relating to Operation Fast and Furious, as required by law.
Judicial Watch had filed, on June 22, 2012, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking all documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious and “specifically [a]ll records subject to the claim of executive privilege invoked by President Barack Obama on or about June 20, 2012.”
The administration has refused to comply with Judicial Watch’s FOIA request, and in mid-September the group filed a lawsuit challenging Holder’s denial. That lawsuit remains ongoing but within the past week President Barack Obama’s administration filed what’s called a “motion to stay” the suit. Such a motion is something that if granted would delay the lawsuit indefinitely.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said that Holder’s and Obama’s desire to continually hide these Fast and Furious documents is “ironic” now that they’re so gung-ho on gun control. “It is beyond ironic that the Obama administration has initiated an anti-gun violence push as it seeking to keep secret key documents about its very own Fast and Furious gun walking scandal,” Fitton said in a statement. “Getting beyond the Obama administration’s smokescreen, this lawsuit is about a very simple principle: the public’s right to know the full truth about an egregious political scandal that led to the death of at least one American and countless others in Mexico. The American people are sick and tired of the Obama administration trying to rewrite FOIA law to protect this president and his appointees. Americans want answers about Fast and Furious killings and lies.”
The only justification Holder uses to ask the court to indefinitely delay Judicial Watch’s suit is that there’s another lawsuit ongoing for the same documents – one filed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Judicial Watch has filed a brief opposing the DOJ’s motion to stay.
As the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was voting Holder into contempt of Congress for his refusal to cooperate with congressional investigators by failing to turn over tens of thousands of pages of Fast and Furious documents, Obama asserted the executive privilege over them. The full House of Representatives soon after voted on a bipartisan basis to hold Holder in contempt.
There were two parts of the contempt resolution. Holder was, and still is, in both civil and criminal contempt of Congress. The criminal resolution was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen–who works for Holder–for prosecution. Despite being technically required by law to bring forth criminal charges against Holder, under orders from Holder’s Department of Justice Machen chose to ignore the resolution.
The second part of the contempt resolution–civil contempt of Congress–allowed House Republicans to hire legal staff to challenge President Obama’s assertion of the executive privilege. That lawsuit remains ongoing despite Holder’s and the DOJ’s attempt to dismiss it and settle it.
It’s unclear what’s in the documents Obama asserted privilege over, but the president’s use of the extraordinary power appears weak. There are two types of presidential executive privilege: the presidential communications privilege and the deliberative process privilege. Use of the presidential communications privilege would require that the president himself or his senior-most advisers were involved in the discussions.
Since the president and his cabinet-level officials continually claim they had no knowledge of Operation Fast and Furious until early 2011 when the information became public–and Holder claims he didn’t read the briefing documents he was sent that outlined the scandal and how guns were walking while the operation was ongoing–Obama says he’s using the less powerful deliberative process privilege.
The reason why Obama’s assertion of that deliberative process privilege over these documents is weak at best is because the Supreme Court has held that such a privilege assertion is invalidated by even the suspicion of government wrongdoing. Obama, Holder, the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and virtually everyone else involved in this scandal have admitted that government wrongdoing actually took place in Operation Fast and Furious.
In Fast and Furious, the ATF “walked” about 2,000 firearms into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. That means through straw purchasers they allowed sales to happen and didn’t stop the guns from being trafficked even though they had the legal authority to do so and were fully capable of doing so.
Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of Mexican citizens–estimates put it around at least 300–were killed with these firearms.
The Fast and Furious scandal and more is covered in detail in the New York Times best-selling book Corruption Chronicles.