Separation of powers showdown

AddThis

Yesterday, President Obama granted Attorney General Eric Holder executive privilege to withhold documents requested by the House committee investigating the administration’s involvement in the failed ATF gun smuggling sting, Operation Fast and Furious.

The executive privilege, Obama’s first use of the power, ignited a “political firefight” on Capitol Hill and resulted in the House Committee voting to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.

Punches were thrown, and Holder claimed the vote was politically motivated.

"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."

Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended the committee’s contempt vote and released a statement saying, “Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Presidential use of executive privilege dates back to George Washington when he denied the House’s request for information relating to the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain.

More recently, Bill Clinton used executive privilege 14 times, most notably in an attempt to withhold his aides from testifying in court during his impeachment in 1998.

George W. Bush used the power six times, once to withhold the details of Vice President Dick Cheney’s meetings with energy executives, and several times to block congressional subpoenas of his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and political aide Karl Rove.

While voting to hold an official in contempt can potentially lead to jail time, politicians usually avoid carrying out the entire procedure because it could lead to a court battle that redefines the limits of executive privilege.

Nancy Pelosi chastised House republicans Wednesday and claimed they misused the contempt vote.

“It doesn't serve our country, and it undermines the true purpose of contempt of Congress," Pelosi said. "That's why I didn't arrest Karl Rove when I had the chance."

Things seem to be calming down now, with the Associated Press reporting a compromise between both parties is in the works.