A war of words between Congress and the White House escalated on Tuesday over a two-year-old firearms operation along the Texas-Mexico border, with a heated exchange between the leading congressional Republican and the Obama administration.
Two days before the full House is scheduled to vote on a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, the White House issued a strongly worded answer to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. Issa last week held a successful committee vote against Holder for contempt of Congress.
"The congressman's analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control. Our position is consistent with executive branch legal precedent for the past three decades," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. "The courts have routinely … affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved."
Last week, voting 23-17 on a straight party-line vote, the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the citation against Holder, hours after the Obama administration claimed executive privilege over documents sought by the committee, effectively shielding them from public view.
The citation is the first-ever for a U.S. attorney general, although other executive branch officials have been cited for contempt of Congress - most recently in 2008, when Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten were cited.
On Tuesday, while traveling in Boston, Holder would not answer a reporter's question about whether he would resign.
The so-called "Fast and Furious" program was designed by the Justice Department to track weapons from Arizona into Mexico, but U.S. agents lost track of some of the weapons, which were later tied to drug cartels and at least one of which was found at the scene of a murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
"Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it ... or you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation," Issa wrote to the White House on Tuesday.
Democrats have described the proceedings as election-year politics, while Republicans have said they are pressing forward with legitimate questions for the Obama administration.
by RTT Staff Writer
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