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GOP, Barack Obama Set for Showdown

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (center) presided over a contempt vote of Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday. Moments after the 23-17 vote, Speaker John Boehner scheduled a floor vote on the matter for next week.

Pfeiffer did not mention Terry’s murder or the Justice Department’s initial assertions that senior officials were unaware of the tactic. And the White House has not yet addressed Obama’s criticism of Bush’s executive privilege claims. Instead, the administration cited precedent to argue that presidents may assert executive privilege over internal documents at government agencies — not just documents directly related to the White House. Republicans, such as former House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (Wis.) argued Wednesday that the executive privilege Obama is citing does not apply to wrongdoing.

Buck, meanwhile, said the House is indeed focused on jobs.

“Americans are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and that’s why today the House is considering the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act. But the fact that the president’s policies have left us with a terrible economy is no excuse for avoiding accountability on this botched operation that led to the murder of a federal agent.”

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign also jumped into the fray.

“President Obama’s pledge to run the most open and transparent administration in history has turned out to be just another broken promise,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

But perhaps the most biting statement came from Terry’s parents, Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr.

“Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious,” they said.

At the Oversight panel’s contempt hearing, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) read the family’s statement.

Holder blasted the “unprecedented” action in a statement, saying he and his department have spent countless hours and provided almost 8,000 documents to the committee. He said Issa rejected his efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation.

“Instead, he has chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch,” Holder said. “It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention — and, as a result — has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people.”

Holder asked Obama in an eight-page letter to assert executive privilege over the documents. The letter outlines a legal case for asserting privilege in regard to a key category of internal DOJ communications. That period ranges from when the department denied in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley the tactics at the heart of Fast and Furious were ever used to December 2011, when the department rescinded that letter to Grassley.

“The documents at issue fit squarely within the scope of executive privilege,” Holder’s letter to Obama said.

The letter cites opinions from George W. Bush administration lawyers that concern communication between the DOJ and the White House and quotes former Attorney General Michael Mukasey saying, “The doctrine of executive privilege ... encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications.”

Issa said the last-minute invocation of privilege wasn’t reason to stop the proceedings.

“This untimely assertion by the Justice Department falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings,” Issa said.  

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