As part of the House Republicans' laser-like focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs," the House Oversight Committee scheduled a vote today on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants more documents related to the so-called "Fast and Furious" controversy, and he's been unsatisfied with Holder's efforts to reach a compromise.
Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "The only constitutionally viable exception to the Department of Justice`s obligation under the subpoena would be executive privilege." So, today, the White House asserted executive privilege.
"I write now to inform you that the president has asserted executive privilege over relevant ... documents," Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to the committee.
Executive privilege allows the White House to argue that some private communications between the president and members of his administration cannot be divulged to Congress.
In theory, this should probably affect the contempt vote -- Issa recently explained, "We very clearly want to respect the history of executive privilege" -- but it won't. The far-right committee chairman said the assertion of executive privilege in this case is "untimely," so the vote will proceed anyway, because Issa wants it to.
The White House's message, meanwhile, has the benefit of being accurate: "President George W. Bush asserted executive privilege six times, while Bill Clinton did so in 14 instances, 'both of whom protected the same category of documents we're protecting today (ie after-the-fact internal Executive Branch materials responding to congressional and media inquiries -- in this case from the Justice Department). In fact, dating back to President Reagan, Presidents have asserted executive privileged 24 times. President Obama has gone longer without asserting the privilege in a Congressional dispute than any President in the last three decades.'"
In fact, though the materials in this case apparently aren't related to communications with the White House, Igor Volsky notes the way in which the principle was used by Obama's Republican predecessor: "Bush invoked the privilege repeatedly: to block a Congressional committee’s subpoenas for documents relating to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the US attorneys scandal that brought down Alberto Gonzales, to prevent Josh Bolten from turning over documents, and to protect Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor and Karl Rove and Scott Jennings from testimony."
For whatever reason, Issa and his GOP colleagues didn't seem to mind at the time.
Tea Party Caucus member Steve King (R-Iowa) said Republican leadership is wary of using investigations it's conducting of the administration for political gain, especially when it comes to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-tracking program.
"I think leadership doesn't want to be seen as using the gavels here for political purposes," King said in an interview. "I think there's a bit of an aversion to that. Me? I have no reservations about that. This is politics."
That's not a quote from a liberal Democrat attacking Issa and his witch hunt; that's a quote from an Issa ally making a candid confession.
Even Issa himself has said he looks at his foolish investigations as "good theater."
Of course, now that executive privilege has been invoked, the theater is going to reach a new level.
Update: Also see, "Five Things To Know About The Republican Witchhunt Against Attorney General Holder." The first point? "Issa has no case."