With the media and engaged citizens focused on critical mid-term elections, the Department of Justice turned over 64,000 pages of documents related to Operation Fast and Furious that it had previously claimed executive privilege for, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Responsibility announced Tuesday. Per the committee release, the production of the documents, compelled by court order, is further evidence the administration had no legitimate reasons for withholding them in the first place consistent with the purposes behind executive privilege, and their withholding was part of a continued effort to avoid disclosures “that embarrass or otherwise implicate senior Obama Administration officials.”
The documents were hand-delivered to Kerry Kircher, General Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives under cover of a letter signed by DOJ’s John Tyler, Assistant Director, Civil Division, Federal Programs Branch. Per Tyler, they have been marked to show redactions from agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the State Department. Markings also show material withheld under the claim of deliberative process privilege, and material deemed “Unrelated” or covered by “Privacy” issues.
Claiming DOJ compliance was affected by “time constraints,” that some of the materials may be appropriate for Congressional but not public review, and admitting that “some of the information may have been unintentionally marked for redaction,” Tyler noted if DOJ discovers additional appropriate materials, it will work with Congress to produce additional documents. By the same token, he asserted the right to seek return of documents inappropriately disclosed.
For his part, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa remains unsatisfied and skeptical of DOJ pledges of willingness to resolve and narrow disputes. Yesterday’s release specifically characterizes the document production as an “election eve dump,” and calls the withholding of the documents a “cover-up.”
“When Eric Holder wants to know why he was the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt of Congress, he can read the judge’s order that compelled the production of 64,280 pages that he and President Obama illegitimately and illegally withheld from Congress,” Issa stated. “Since these pages still do not represent the entire universe of the documents the House of Representatives is seeking related to the Justice Department’s cover-up of the botched gun-walking scandal that contributed to the death of a Border Patrol agent, our court case will continue.
“I am deeply concerned that some redactions to these documents may still be inappropriate and contrary to the judge’s order in the case,” he continued. “This production is nonetheless a victory for the legislative branch, a victory for transparency, and a victory for efforts to check Executive Branch power. As the production is extensive and may contain sensitive information, our investigative staff will be carefully examining the documents turned over last night.”
What such examination will actually reveal in terms of new information is uncertain. One direction the continued investigation could go that has thus far escaped close scrutiny, at least in the media, may be indicated by redactions previously initiated by State. What level of involvement that department had should be of significant interest, as it has authority over international arms exports.
If State did not approve “gunwalking” as a law enforcement tactic and if it was done outside of channels, per U.S. Code, “Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission [and] willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.” If, on the other hand, State did sanction uncontrolled distribution of guns into the criminal underworld of a foreign country, the investigation would take on an entirely new public interest dimension to resolve, especially as the official in charge at the time was potential Democrat presidential contender Hillary Clinton.