Issa Catches White House Between A Rock And A Hard Place On Executive Privilege


I’m sure you’ve all seen the headlines by now. Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been trying to get the Obama administration to divulge information about the infamous Operation Fast and Furious. Finally, last week, President Obama claimed executive privilege, denying Issa’s requests.

Later this week there will be a vote on contempt charges for Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, but Issa has his eyes set on the President as well. You see, all along Holder and other administration members have claimed that the White House had nothing at all to do with Operation Fast and Furious. But now that Obama has invoked executive privilege, it seems pretty clear the White House did have something to do with it.

You can’t have it both ways. If the White House wasn’t involved there is no executive privilege. If the White House was involved, there was a whole lot of lying to Congress going on. Which is the thrust of a letter Rep. Issa has sent to the President:

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

Issa laid out that this is because the “Justice Department has steadfastly maintained that the documents sought by the committee do not implicate the White House whatsoever.”

“If true, they are at best deliberative documents between and among department personnel who lack the requisite ‘operational proximity’ to the president,” as legal precedent Issa cites requires. “As such, they cannot be withheld pursuant to the constitutionally-based executive privilege.”

Issa further breaks down how, “[c]ourts distinguish between the presidential communications privilege and the deliberative process privilege.”

“Both … are executive privileges designed to protect the confidentiality of executive branch decision-making,” Issa wrote. “The deliberative-process privilege, however, which applies to executive branch officials generally, is a common law privilege that requires a lower threshold of need to be overcome, and ‘disappears altogether when there is any reason to believe government misconduct has occurred.’”

The President’s actions throughout this would seem to indicate that he really, really has something to hide. If the President wasn’t involved in the scandal, you’d expect that he would have just fired those involved long ago and be done with it. Or, at the very least, you’d expect the administration to just release the information Issa is requesting and take their lumps secure in the fact that the President is still above it all.

But this fight they’re picking with Congress makes it seem like they’ve got something big to hide. Like the President’s personal involvement.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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