White House Asserts Executive Privilege as Contempt of Congress Vote Looms

I have not been following the “Fast and Furious” scandal all that closely (or even much at all), but this seems like an interesting development for those who are interested in separation of powers questions.

President Obama asserted executive privilege over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” operation Wednesday as a House panel moved to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to cooperate with a related congressional inquiry. . . .

Sharing the “Fast and Furious” documents “would raise substantial separation of powers concerns and potentially create an imbalance in the relationship” between Congress and the White House, Holder wrote in a letter to Obama delivered late Tuesday.

Releasing the documents “would inhibit candor of such Executive Branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the Executive Branch’s ability to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight,” Holder added.

The decision is Obama’s first use of executive privilege, which has been invoked throughout U.S. history by presidential administrations to preserve the confidentiality of information in the face of legislative inquiries. . . .

In response, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who led Wednesday’s hearing to review the contempt charges, said he learned of Obama’s decision early Wednesday and believes the move “falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings.”

As some may recall, in 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold former White House counsel Harriett Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for failing to answer questions about the mass firing of U.S. attorneys by the Bush Administration.  The vote was 223 to 32 because most of the House Republicans left the chamber for the vote.

UPDATE: This afternoon, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold Holder in contempt, 23-17.  The vote was along party lines.