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Executive Privilege or Cover-up?

by George Landrith

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which is part of the Department of Justice, ran the Fast and Furious “gun-walking” operation in which government agents purposely facilitated the sale of thousands of guns to the Mexican drug cartels. Hundreds of those Fast and Furious guns have been used in a long litany of drug-related murders along both sides of our southern border. On December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, was killed in a shootout in Arizona with drug cartel members who had guns provided by the ATF. Over 200 Mexicans have been murdered with Fast and Furious guns and to make matters worse, hundreds of Fast and Furious guns are still in the hands of Mexican drug cartel thugs.

Why would the ATF run guns to the Mexican drug cartels? Congress has asked these very questions, but Attorney General Eric Holder seems determined to prevent Congress from getting to the truth.

When Congress received a tip about Fast and Furious from a whistle-blower at the Department of Justice, Holder unequivocally denied that he or any other high level Obama officials had any prior knowledge of, or involvement in, the program. President Obama denied that either he or Holder had authorized the program or had any previous knowledge of it and claimed he had only recently learned of it in the news.

Holder’s claims are looking increasingly unlikely as whistle blowers provided Congress with documents showing that Holder had received reports on Fast and Furious at least nine months before he admitted having even heard about it. As a result, Congress issued a subpoena for documents on the gun-running operation to learn the truth. Now, about eight months later, Holder is still refusing to provide the subpoenaed documents. Holder is telling Congress instead to trust him to tell the full truth while he hides thousands of documents rom their review. Literally five minutes before a congressional committee was scheduled to vote on a contempt order for refusing to provide the subpoenaed documents, Obama for the first time claimed that the documents were protected by Executive Privilege despite never making that claim in the previous eight months when there were disputes about providing the documents.

It certainly appears Obama and Holder are hiding something. Claiming executive privilege — particularly at this late hour — is strong evidence of a cover-up. Claiming executive privilege requires Obama to admit that these documents were part of briefings to the President to help him in a deliberative and decision making role. But obviously, if neither Holder nor Obama had ever heard anything about Fast and Furious as they claim, these documents could not possibly qualify for the privilege. Moreover, the documents are not likely to be about military, diplomatic or sensitive national security matters — another requirement before executive privilege can be claimed.

Obama’s claim of privilege appears to be designed to delay Americans from learning before the election the truth about his involvement in the gun-running operation. It will take the courts at least a year to resolve this dispute — well after the upcoming election. Once the courts look at Obama’s bogus claim of privilege, it will be struck down just as Richard Nixon’s attempts to hide the facts behind Watergate were struck down. Not even President Obama is above the law.

So what will the documents that Obama hopes to hide likely reveal? First, they will likely answer the question what did Obama know and when did he know it? Second, they will likely reveal that Holder and/or Obama knew about the gun-running program and at the very least allowed it to go forward. Third, they may reveal that Holder and/or Obama approved the gun-running because Obama’s political team hoped a crime wave along the border caused by illegal guns could be used to build a public outcry for more restrictive gun laws which Holder and Obama strongly support. Fourth, they will likely reveal a high level coverup and an attempt to suppress evidence and silence the whistleblowers.

Obama hopes to delay full disclosure because the murder of a border control agent and hundreds of Mexicans by drug cartel thugs armed by the U.S. government is a scandal far more serious and damaging than Watergate. Thus, like Nixon, Obama hopes to hide the truth and survive the upcoming election. After November, Obama hopes to do what Nixon could not do — continue to keep the truth from coming to light, ride out the storm, and complete his second term. Ultimately, American voters will decide if this is an acceptable plan — particularly from a man who promised his presidency would be “the most open and transparent in history.”

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.