WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley has asked President Obama for a description of the scope of the executive privilege claim made this morning for documents in the congressional investigation of the Fast and Furious program, where the government allowed as many as 2,500 guns to be illegally purchased and trafficked to Mexico.
In a letter to the President this afternoon, Grassley asked if the privilege was being asserted only with regard to documents called for by a subpoena from the oversight committee in the House of Representatives that may have involved communications with the President, or if the privilege was being extended to records of purely internal Justice Department communications, not involving the White House.
Grassley has questioned the last-minute assertion of executive privilege by the President regarding Fast and Furious. “At no point in the last 18 months since I started asking questions has the Department of Justice hinted that there was a potential that the documents might be subject to executive privilege. That includes a face-to-face meeting with the Attorney General last night,” Grassley said. “If it were a serious claim, the administration would have and should have raised it last night, if not much earlier.”
In fact, some White House emails involving the Fast and Furious program already have been turned over to congressional investigators, including messages between White House National Security staffer Kevin O’Reilly and William Newell, Special Agent in Charge of Phoenix field division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The congressional investigation began with Senator Grassley’s inquiry into whistleblower allegations first made in January 2011 that the government had allowed the transfer of the illegally-purchased weapons later found at the scene of the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice denied the allegations to Senator Grassley for 10 months before being forced to withdraw its denial in face of evidence to the contrary.
“We owe no less to the family of Brian Terry than our best effort to get to the truth,” Grassley said. “That has been my primary goal all along. It is what motivated the whistleblowers to risk their careers, and it is why I will continue to insist on answers.”
The Iowa senator said the House committee investigating the gun-walking operation was forced to subpoena documents due to stonewalling by the Department of Justice and that the contempt citation is “an important” procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances. “Congress has a constitutional responsibility to determine what happened so that there’s accountability and this kind of disastrous government program never happens again,” he said.
Click here to see a copy of Grassley’s letter to Obama today.