Updated: 11:01 a.m.
In a last-minute attempt to stave off a vote on contempt of Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder asked President Barack Obama to assert executive privilege over documents relating to the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe, the first time he has cited a legal authority to not comply with two Congressional subpoenas.
“I am writing to request that you assert executive privilege with respect to confidential Department of Justice documents ... that are responsive to a subpoena issued” by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Holder said in a Tuesday letter to Obama.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa that Obama had agreed to the request and was asserting executive privilege.
Obama’s assertion is a major escalation in the conflict, which Holder has described as an “impending constitutional crisis,” between the Justice Department and House Republicans who are demanding the documents,
The Oversight panel is scheduled to vote on a contempt report today, which is an early step to holding Holder in contempt of Congress.
The eight-page letter to Obama outlines a legal case for asserting privilege in regard to a key category of internal Justice Department communications from a period after the department broadly denied the controversial tactics at the heart of Fast and Furious were ever used.
“The documents at issue fit squarely within the scope of executive privilege,” the letter says.
The letter cites opinions from George W. Bush administration lawyers that concern communication between the Justice Department and the White House and quotes former Attorney General Michael Mukasey saying, “the doctrine of executive privilege ... encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications.”
Issa said his committee is evaluating the response and will be continuing ahead with its contempt vote.
“This untimely assertion by the Justice Department falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings,” Issa said.
Issa also read aloud from a book, “When Congress Comes Call,” about executive privilege. The passage said the privilege is restricted to communications between the president himself and staff.