President Obama asserted executive privilege over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” operation Wednesday as a House panel moved to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt after he failed to hand over documents related to a congressional inquiry into the scandal.
In a letter sent to Obama late Tuesday, Holder urged Obama to exert executive privilege, because sharing internal documents with lawmakers could “have significant, damaging consequences.”
President Bush invoked executive privilege for the first time Thursday to keep Congress from seeing documents of prosecutors’ decision-making in cases ranging from decades-old Boston murders to the Clinton-era fund-raising probe.
The administration informed a House committee of the decision prior to a congressional hearing Thursday on the Boston case involving the FBI’s handling of informants.
Executive privilege is a doctrine recognized by the courts that ensures presidents can get candid advice in private without fear of its becoming public.
The privilege, however, is best known for the unsuccessful attempts by former Presidents Nixon and Clinton to keep evidence secret during impeachment investigations.
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales recommended Bush invoke the privilege earlier this fall.
Aware the White House was considering such a new policy, members of Congress have raised concerns that it will hinder lawmakers from giving proper oversight to federal prosecutions, noting scandals in the past would never have been exposed if Congress had been kept from sensitive documents.
“If this unprecedented policy is permitted to stand, Congress will not be able to exercise meaningful oversight of the executive branch,” Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said recently.
The more things stay the same, the more you realize that it’s almost never about principle, and almost always about power.