Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eric Holder

Team Obama’s Damascus Road Experiences

We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

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We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

Speaking of the scales falling from their eyes, we’re now asked to believe that Attorney General Eric Holder, is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” for his role in authorizing a search warrant that named James Rosen as an “aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in a crime. A very well developed sense of right and wrong, combined with the fear that he might have committed perjury in his Congressional testimony, will do that to a fellow.

We’re seeing a variation of this with the IRS scandal. The president and Democrats are falling all over themselves condemning the abuse of power by the IRS. But what they conveniently forget is their role in creating a climate that allowed the abuse to flourish. After all, when the DNC runs ads accusing pro-Republican groups of “stealing our democracy,” when the president of the United States suggests they are breaking the law, and when senior Democratic Senators write letters (see here) to the IRS requesting that it survey major nonprofits involved in political campaign activity for their possible “violation of tax laws,” what you are bound to get is what we now have.

The president and his top aides gave clear guidance as to which properties needed to be targeted and provided the accelerants to get a fire burning. And now they profess being shocked that arson was going on.

How stupid do they think we are?

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Holder’s Post-9/11 Backlash Myth

Attorney General Eric Holder left out an important detail from his speech today in which he scolded Americans about not repeating their alleged bias toward Muslims after 9/11. He was on firm ground when he rightly denounced any “misguided acts of retaliation” against Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing. But in resurrecting the myth that Arabs and Muslims suffered a post-9/11 backlash by an America that was driven to prejudice by terrorism, the top law enforcement official in the nation forgot to tell a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League that attacks against Muslims have been statistically insignificant after 2001 and remain far below the level of reported attacks and incidents involving anti-Semitism.

Ironically, the head of his host organization—which is celebrating its centennial—pointed this out in an interview just this past weekend in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Foxman effectively debunked Holder in advance when he said the following:

“There are ten times as many acts directed against Jews as there are against Muslims,” Foxman says. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t animosity toward Muslims, but even after Boston, you’re not seeing attacks against mosques, you’re not seeing people demonstrating in the streets. That’s something very unique in this country. It’s almost a miracle. It would never happen in Europe.”

He continues, “When people applauded in Boston that the terrorists were captured, there was no negative [repercussion]. The same thing happened after 9/11 – we were so concerned at the time that we took out an ad in the New York Times: ‘You don’t fight hate with hate.’ But it didn’t happen. And it’s not happening now. And that drives the Islamophobes crazy. It drives them nuts.”

Foxman’s right. It didn’t happen after 9/11 and it’s not happening now, which makes the disapproving tone of Holder’s diatribe somewhat suspicious. As I pointed out in an article in COMMENTARY in 2010 on the impact of the post-9/11 backlash myth on the Ground Zero mosque controversy, though the idea of a wave of discriminatory attacks against Muslims has been mentioned so often in the media that it has become an accepted truth, it isn’t borne out by the record. Every subsequent release of FBI hate crime statistics tells the same story: attacks against Jews far outnumber those against Muslims and Arabs even during the periods when the latter were supposedly under siege.

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Attorney General Eric Holder left out an important detail from his speech today in which he scolded Americans about not repeating their alleged bias toward Muslims after 9/11. He was on firm ground when he rightly denounced any “misguided acts of retaliation” against Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing. But in resurrecting the myth that Arabs and Muslims suffered a post-9/11 backlash by an America that was driven to prejudice by terrorism, the top law enforcement official in the nation forgot to tell a gathering of the Anti-Defamation League that attacks against Muslims have been statistically insignificant after 2001 and remain far below the level of reported attacks and incidents involving anti-Semitism.

Ironically, the head of his host organization—which is celebrating its centennial—pointed this out in an interview just this past weekend in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. Foxman effectively debunked Holder in advance when he said the following:

“There are ten times as many acts directed against Jews as there are against Muslims,” Foxman says. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t animosity toward Muslims, but even after Boston, you’re not seeing attacks against mosques, you’re not seeing people demonstrating in the streets. That’s something very unique in this country. It’s almost a miracle. It would never happen in Europe.”

He continues, “When people applauded in Boston that the terrorists were captured, there was no negative [repercussion]. The same thing happened after 9/11 – we were so concerned at the time that we took out an ad in the New York Times: ‘You don’t fight hate with hate.’ But it didn’t happen. And it’s not happening now. And that drives the Islamophobes crazy. It drives them nuts.”

Foxman’s right. It didn’t happen after 9/11 and it’s not happening now, which makes the disapproving tone of Holder’s diatribe somewhat suspicious. As I pointed out in an article in COMMENTARY in 2010 on the impact of the post-9/11 backlash myth on the Ground Zero mosque controversy, though the idea of a wave of discriminatory attacks against Muslims has been mentioned so often in the media that it has become an accepted truth, it isn’t borne out by the record. Every subsequent release of FBI hate crime statistics tells the same story: attacks against Jews far outnumber those against Muslims and Arabs even during the periods when the latter were supposedly under siege.

To note this is not to sanction bias against Muslims. No one should hold any individual responsible for the actions of the ethnic or religious group to which they belong, let alone crimes committed by a small minority, as is the case with American Muslims. Hate crimes of any sort are despicable and deserve severe punishment. But the false narrative of anti-Muslim discrimination fostered by radical groups that purport to speak for that community is intended to do more than squelch bias. The purpose is to forestall any effort to bring those sectors of the Muslim community under scrutiny for their role in the growth of Islamist extremism and homegrown terrorism on our shores.

Holder, who never mentioned that the Tsarnaev brothers were Muslim in his speech, is doing neither the country nor Muslims any favor by playing this card. Falsely labeling all investigations of Islamist groups and mosques in this country as nothing more than prejudice has become a standard trope in the aftermath of every instance of terror conducted by radical Muslims in the United States. In doing so, those promoting this distorted version of history have hampered counter-terror operations and made it more difficult for the responsible and law-abiding Muslim majority to reject the radicals in their midst.

The only way to end this cycle of extremism is for the government and the media to stop being so frightened of being labeled as bigots and to empower American Muslims to cast out the Islamists in their midst. Until that happens, we will continue to rerun the same tired script with the same tragic consequences.

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Eric Holder’s Reckless Assertion

During a speech to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Attorney General Eric Holder said that creating a “pathway to earned citizenship” was a “civil right.” Mr. Holder put it this way:

 

Creating a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country is essential. The way we treat our friends and neighbors who are undocumented – by creating a mechanism for them to earn citizenship and move out of the shadows – transcends the issue of immigration status. This is a matter of civil and human rights. It is about who we are as a nation. And it goes to the core of our treasured American principle of equal opportunity.

As someone who believes in earned citizenship if it’s done in the context of other steps related to border security and encouraging more high-skilled workers coming to America, perhaps I have a bit of standing to say that what Holder said is nonsense. Offering earned citizenship to illegal aliens falls under the category of prudential arguments about immigration reform. There are serious policy arguments on both sides.

But Attorney General Holder’s claim is more than simply silly; it is also pernicious. It attempts to frame this debate not on the merits of granting a pathway to citizenship for those who have violated our laws; it’s an effort to frame it as a conflict between those who support (good people) and those who oppose (bad people) basic human rights. This is an effort, in other words, to demonize those with whom one disagrees, and therefore creates yet more polarization and anger and self-righteousness in a debate that probably needs less of it.

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During a speech to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Attorney General Eric Holder said that creating a “pathway to earned citizenship” was a “civil right.” Mr. Holder put it this way:

 

Creating a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country is essential. The way we treat our friends and neighbors who are undocumented – by creating a mechanism for them to earn citizenship and move out of the shadows – transcends the issue of immigration status. This is a matter of civil and human rights. It is about who we are as a nation. And it goes to the core of our treasured American principle of equal opportunity.

As someone who believes in earned citizenship if it’s done in the context of other steps related to border security and encouraging more high-skilled workers coming to America, perhaps I have a bit of standing to say that what Holder said is nonsense. Offering earned citizenship to illegal aliens falls under the category of prudential arguments about immigration reform. There are serious policy arguments on both sides.

But Attorney General Holder’s claim is more than simply silly; it is also pernicious. It attempts to frame this debate not on the merits of granting a pathway to citizenship for those who have violated our laws; it’s an effort to frame it as a conflict between those who support (good people) and those who oppose (bad people) basic human rights. This is an effort, in other words, to demonize those with whom one disagrees, and therefore creates yet more polarization and anger and self-righteousness in a debate that probably needs less of it.

What Holder said also reveals a fairly common mindset of those on the left, which is to characterize whatever position they embrace not simply as correct but as a basic civil right. In other words, as something fundamental and teleological, as a right that is ours based on our nature as human beings. The idea that a person who violates American sovereignty by illegally crossing our borders should be given a pathway to citizenship as a matter of civil and human rights is therefore indefensible, an invention. The attorney general is employing a very serious concept in a reckless way. And it empties the term of meaning, just as promiscuously accusing those who oppose the policies of President Obama of racism empties that charge of meaning. It really ought to stop, since human rights violations and racism really do exist.

Offering earned citizenship to those who are in America illegally may make sense economically, from a security standpoint, and even morally. Fine; if one believes that, then make the arguments. But words actually mean something — human rights and civil rights as concepts mean something — and so for Holder to make the claim that he did is quite unfortunate. But it is also, alas, quite predictable.

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Report Cites F&F Failures, Clears Holder

A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

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A lengthy report released by the Department of Justice inspector general’s office this afternoon cites serious failures in management related to the Fast and Furious scandal, singling out 14 employees for sanction review but ultimately finding that Attorney General Eric Holder had no knowledge of the operation prior to early 2011. The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Justice Department watchdog recommended that 14 employees be reviewed for possible sanctions in light of a “pattern of serious failures” at the department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in overseeing the botched Fast and Furious operation against gun traffickers.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the more than 400-page report Wednesday, the most extensive review of the actions by federal officials in Arizona and Washington that led to the scandal.

Among his findings, he said that Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t aware of the tactics being used in the operation until early 2011, an issue that has become a point of contention with Republican lawmakers who have accused Mr. Holder of authorizing the flawed probe.

The Daily Caller’s Matt Boyle reports that former ATF head Kenneth Melson and Jason Weinstein, a deputy assistant attorney general, have already stepped down as a result of the report.

Holder also came out swinging against Republican critics this afternoon, claiming the report “debunks” allegations made against him by members of the House GOP, particularly the charge that he knew about the operation earlier than he acknowledged. But this is far from a victory for him. The fact that the report found “a pattern of serious failures” and singled out 14 of his employees for penalties — including the two top-level officials who already resigned — is a pretty clear repudiation of Holder’s leadership.

If this report had come out six months ago, House Republicans might have been able to get their scalp. But the election is a month and a half away. Even if Obama is reelected, I can’t imagine Holder would stick around for a second term. This report slapped some wrists and held the DOJ accountable for some “serious failures,” while giving Holder enough cover to hold onto his job for the time being — which is probably enough to get him through to the end of his term.

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Texas Voter ID Case Determined by Past, Not Present Discrimination

The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

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The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

But under the Voting Rights Act, anything that even inadvertently affects minority voters, even if the purpose is constitutional and the impact incidental can be construed as a violation of the law. Thus, attorneys for Texas were given the impossible task of being forced to defend their state against a hypothetical assertion that could not be definitively disproved. Only a Supreme Court decision striking down the entire Voting Rights Act can prevent the Obama administration from stopping voter ID in Texas.

Proponents of voter ID can rightly assert that any comparison such as that made by Attorney General Holder that these bills are “Jim Crow laws” is an outrageous distortion of the truth. Minority voters are just as capable of getting themselves a free state ID card, as are whites. Anyone capable of registering to vote can do so. Unless opponents of these laws are prepared to argue that officials have no right to ask a prospective voter to prove his identity or even his citizenship, the charge of discrimination doesn’t hold water.

But the bottom line in the Texas case is that since it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will strike down the entire Voting Rights Act, the administration will be able to stop voter ID in the Lone Star State. Though Holder claimed the state was discriminating against minorities the case was determined by past injustices, not proof of present day bias. A true test of the constitutionality of such laws will have to wait for other challenges to make their way to the high court.

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House GOP Releases First F&F Report

The House Oversight Committee is holding five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials responsible in the Fast and Furious operation failures, according to a draft report released last night:

The report determined that five officials in the ATF were responsible, ranging from a former low-ranking special agent to the former acting head of the agency. Congressional investigators called attention to the weak leadership at the ATF and pushed for the agency to be strengthened.

“Strong leadership is needed at ATF to overcome the deep scars left by Operation Fast and Furious,” the report states. “Greater accountability within ATF would underscore that ineffective supervision and recklessness both have consequences.”

Specifically, the report pins blame on former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

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The House Oversight Committee is holding five Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials responsible in the Fast and Furious operation failures, according to a draft report released last night:

The report determined that five officials in the ATF were responsible, ranging from a former low-ranking special agent to the former acting head of the agency. Congressional investigators called attention to the weak leadership at the ATF and pushed for the agency to be strengthened.

“Strong leadership is needed at ATF to overcome the deep scars left by Operation Fast and Furious,” the report states. “Greater accountability within ATF would underscore that ineffective supervision and recklessness both have consequences.”

Specifically, the report pins blame on former Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell, former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon, former Assistant Director for Field Operations Mark Chait, the former Deputy Director William Hoover, and former acting ATF director Kenneth Melson.

The Hill reports that all five of these officials have been reassigned to other positions. But this oversight report is just the beginning. There are two more reports set to be released, which will both deal with the Department of Justice directly. According to The Hill, the next one will be focused on the deputy attorney general’s office, and the third one will address the failings at the top level of the attorney general’s office and AG Eric Holder. The point of the staggered release may be to give Obama time to back down on executive privilege, Allahpundit writes:

The point of this leak, I assume, is to give Obama one last chance to drop his executive privilege claim over the DOJ documents that [Rep. Darrell] Issa wants to see. (The LAT quotes the report as saying it’s based on “the best information available as of now.”) If he does that, then the report will be held back while GOP investigators go through the new evidence. If he doesn’t do it, then the GOP can argue that there must be nothing in those e-mails that exculpates any of the five guys they’ve named.

Anybody think there’s a chance of this happening? Me neither.

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WH Needs Special Prosecutor Now

Senate Republicans have been calling on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the national security leaks from the White House. This is even more critical in the wake of the Eric Holder contempt vote, as the same Obama-appointed U.S. attorney is now in charge of dealing with the charges against Holder and the investigation into the intelligence leaks.

The most obvious problem is the conflict of interest. It’s doubtful that U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen, an Obama appointee, can fairly investigate his own boss (Eric Holder), or his boss’s boss (President Obama) in either the leak cases or the Fast and Furious stonewalling.

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Senate Republicans have been calling on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the national security leaks from the White House. This is even more critical in the wake of the Eric Holder contempt vote, as the same Obama-appointed U.S. attorney is now in charge of dealing with the charges against Holder and the investigation into the intelligence leaks.

The most obvious problem is the conflict of interest. It’s doubtful that U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen, an Obama appointee, can fairly investigate his own boss (Eric Holder), or his boss’s boss (President Obama) in either the leak cases or the Fast and Furious stonewalling.

But even putting that aside, Machen has now been referred two big, high-profile cases in a matter of weeks, both of which are vital to the public interest. The Washington Post reported last week that Machen already had a full plate, and his staff was overwhelmed with D.C. corruption prosecutions even before the leak case and Holder contempt charge got to his desk:

As if investigating D.C. public corruption wasn’t enough, Machen and his prosecutors were handed another difficult task June 8: spearheading a probe of leaks of classified material to reporters. That assignment came the same day that former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud charges; Brown resigned just days earlier when he was charged in federal court by prosecutors who, with FBI agents, began by investigating discrepancies in his 2008 council campaign.

Although overall attrition has held steady, Machen has lost at least a half-dozen experienced and respected supervisors. In recent weeks, at least six prosecutors have said they will leave the 35-lawyer homicide unit.

A federal hiring freeze has made it difficult to replace those prosecutors, and those remaining are beginning to complain of burnout.

Can Machen’s office reasonably be expected to give the new workload the attention it deserves? Can he be trusted to pursue these cases fairly? The answer to both questions, at this point, seems to be no.

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Holder Found in Contempt of Congress

As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

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As expected, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, largely along party lines, 255 to 67. Seventeen Democrats crossed over to vote for contempt with the GOP, while more than 100 Democrats sat out the vote in protest.

Now that the resolution has passed, the issue will be turned over to the Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen to decide whether he wants to pursue charges against Holder, who is, of course, Machen’s boss. Machen, as you may recall, is also leading the investigation into the White House national security leaks, and Republicans have already been raising alarms about that conflict of interest.

According to CNN, Machen has no obligation to do anything with the Holder dispute, and considering his position, he probably won’t. But the GOP will likely point out that the White House is blocking two investigations from independent scrutiny, a major deviation from its rhetoric on transparency.

The criminal charge isn’t the only avenue the House GOP is pursuing. They may be able to get some results through civil action, CNN reports:

House Republicans are well aware of this recent history, which helps explain the separate measure authorizing a civil action. That resolution, according to a GOP spokesman, would allow the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department’s failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration’s assertion of executive privilege.

Even then, it will take awhile before Republicans get any documents they may be owed — likely too long to matter in the upcoming election. But that doesn’t mean the White House is off the hook. Politically, this looks terrible. To have an attorney general held in contempt for withholding documents related to the murder of a border patrol officer is bad enough. To have a president who is seen as actively protecting this attorney general is much worse, particularly in an administration that already has a history of eschewing independent investigations.

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New Holder Emails Raise More Questions

The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

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The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

Not to nitpick, but AP writes that “Republicans have promoted the idea” that top DOJ officials knew about the gun-walking. That’s framed rather unfairly — this wasn’t some baseless idea pulled out of thin air by the GOP; emails we’ve already seen showed Holder’s top aides discussing F&F as early as December 2010. Holder himself claimed he’d heard about the gun-running a “few weeks” before his May 2011 hearing with Congress, but was forced to reverse himself later, after it became clear he must have known before that.

The latest letters Holder showed members of Congress seem to show he knew about the operation in February 2011, but where is the evidence that he’d just found about it at that point? Just because he allegedly sent out emails ordering an investigation and questioning others about the gunwalking, that hardly seems like proof he wasn’t aware of this earlier.

Plus — if he was so involved in the issue that he’d sent out field directives and vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case in February, then why was he so fuzzy on the timeline during questioning in May? Clearly, he had to have recalled that he knew about this for longer than “a few weeks.”

As I wrote, we already knew his office was aware of the gun-walking months before these emails were sent. If Holder wasn’t informed properly, then why haven’t heads rolled on this? And if the full electronic mail trail really shows Holder had no idea about F&F, why doesn’t the administration just let investigators take a look? Three vague emails we can’t even see tell us nothing, and they actually only make Holder’s defense seem weaker.

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Congressional Black Caucus Plans Walk Out on Holder Vote

Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

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Democrats are trying their best to turn the Eric Holder contempt vote into a racial issue, and Politico reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is planning a walk out protest during the floor vote today:

The Congressional Black Caucus plans to walk off the House floor during tomorrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress, according to a letter being circulated among members of Congress.

“We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an attorney general who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people. We must reflect upon why we are elected to this body and choose now to stand up for justice,” the CBC members wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Politico….

“Instead of focusing on job creation and other critical issues before this Congress, we have been asked to engage in a political stunt on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Our constituents elected us to do real work, not to engage in meaningless partisan activity,” they wrote.

The CBC, of course, would never engage in these sort of “political stunts” and “meaningless partisan activities.” Speaking of which, how many Republicans do you think will be at the CBC’s meaningful bipartisan press conference condemning the Eric Holder contempt vote? I’m going to go with “zero.” When even Sen. Scott “Independent Voice of Massachusetts” Brown is calling for Holder’s resignation, it seems safe to assume the GOP is sticking together on this one.

In fact, the only real bipartisanship we’re likely to see today will be on the side supporting the contempt vote. Fox News reports that at least 11 House Democrats are expected to break rank and join the GOP on this one, but others have speculated that number could be as high as 31.

It’s also interesting that House Democrats are suddenly complaining about “sideshows” after wasting months on the “war on women” nonsense. Criticizing House Republicans for focusing on political stunts isn’t likely to sway public opinion, particularly as the Fast and Furious investigation has bipartisan support, and Holder isn’t exactly a sympathetic party in this conflict.

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NRA to Score Holder Contempt Vote

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

So far, Rep. Matheson is the first Democratic defector. Getting 31 Democrats to cross the aisle still seems like a long-shot for Issa, but the NRA scoring will certainly help. The lobbying group does appear to have had some interest or involvement in the Fast and Furious letter Issa mentions that had 31 Democratic signatories last year, since it was posted on the NRA website under “media.” If the Democrats lose 31 members on this vote, their argument that the GOP is using it as a ploy to tie Holder’s hands on voting rights becomes even more absurd.

The NRA, meanwhile, outlined its justification for scoring the vote in a recent letter to House GOP leadership, making the case that this is about gun rights, not partisanship (h/t Moe Lane):

It is no secret that the NRA does not admire Attorney General Holder. For years, we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions. Since taking office, Attorney General Holder has seized on the violence in Mexico to promote the lie that “90 percent” of firearms used in Mexican crime come from the U.S.; to call for bringing back the 1994 Clinton gun ban; and to justify the illegal multiple sales reporting scheme, which amounts to gun registration for honest Americans who buy long guns in southwest border states.

But our support of this contempt resolution is not about those issues — nor is it a partisan decision, for we have also expressed our strong policy disagreements with Attorney General Holder’s predecessors of both parties. The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda.

Hoyer will try his best to keep his party in line, but the election is a little more than four months away, and some Democrats won’t be able to afford being on the wrong side of the NRA.

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Fast & Furious Doesn’t Hurt the GOP

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

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The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

Cillizza is right when he notes that Congress and, in particular, the House Republicans, are widely disliked. But the contempt most Americans have for our political class doesn’t mean they don’t think Congress shouldn’t investigate genuine scandals. To the extent that people understand that lives were lost because of a Justice Department blunder and that the administration has been trying to fight a desperate delaying action to avoid dealing with the consequences of their folly, they support a vigorous examination of what has happened.

Nor should the administration take any comfort from legal arguments claiming such privilege is justified. As Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes today, the administration may have a court precedent to cite justifying their decision. But even if they are right about that — and most legal observers think they are mistaken — this is still a colossal miscalculation on the part of the president and his advisers. So far, the mainstream press has refused to treat Fast and Furious as a second Watergate even though the implications of the scandal may be far greater. Some liberals may even buy into the preposterous argument that the investigation of Holder is a racist plot to punish him for opposing a fictitious Republican plot to suppress the minority vote.

But the administration’s foolish decision to invoke executive privilege to stop Congress from investigating is an unforced error that could haunt the president even if he wins re-election this fall. Even for those who haven’t followed the scandal closely — a group that includes most Americans — it contributes to the idea the president is a poor leader and things are out of control in Washington. The privilege claim handed Romney and the GOP a club to beat him for no reason other than to spare Holder some humiliation. President Obama will spend the next four months, if not the next four years, regretting it.

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Issa Confronts WH About F&F Involvement

Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

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Via the Daily Caller, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House this morning directly challenging its use of executive privilege to obstruct the Fast and Furious investigation. Issa asserted what others have been saying for days now: the executive order suggests that the White House was either involved in some aspect of the Fast and Furious debacle, or the order was unwarranted.

“[Y]our privilege assertion means one of two things,” Issa wrote to the president in a letter dated June 25. “Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the attorney general to the committee, or, you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation.”

Issa said Obama’s assertion of executive privilege “raised the question” about the veracity of how the “White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation.”

This makes it clear that the Eric Holder contempt vote scheduled for Thursday isn’t going to be the end of the story, at least not if Issa can help it. Obama’s assertion of executive privilege can be overturned — under certain circumstances — by Congress or the Supreme Court, and Issa seems to be making a preliminary case for that in this letter.

Issa also gave details on the 11th hour “deal” Holder offered him before the committee contempt vote last week:

“He indicated a willingness to produce the ‘fair compilation’ of post-February 4 documents,” Issa wrote to the president. “He told me that he would provide the ‘fair compilation’ of documents on three conditions: (1) that I permanently cancel the contempt vote; (2) that I agree the department was in full compliance with the committee’s subpoenas, and; (3) that I accept the ‘fair compilation,’ sight unseen.”

That deal is a joke — a permanent cancellation of the contempt vote and an agreement that the Department of Justice cooperated fully in exchange for a stack of documents of Holder’s choosing, “sight unseen”? Issa obviously would never accept such an agreement, and Holder had to have known that. Was Holder was trying to give himself some cover by offering a deal that would likely get rejected, so that he could claim Issa was the one who was unreasonable? Either that, or Holder was actually desperate enough to think Issa might go along with it.

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Dems Play Race Card on Holder Vote

I wrote about Rep. Nancy Pelosi putting out the feelers on this ludicrous argument last week, and now it sounds like Democrats are actually going ahead with it. True, the idea that the Eric Holder contempt vote is connected to his efforts to fight “minority voter suppression” is deranged, not just because it makes no sense from a timeline perspective but also because it would require you to willfully ignore his repeated attempts to hinder the congressional investigation of “Fast and Furious.” Unless you want to try to argue that Republicans somehow forced him to be uncooperative with an investigating committee.

This Democratic pushback campaign is being led by none other than MSNBC “News Anchor” Rev. Al Sharpton, reports The Hill:

At the front of the push is a group of seven national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton…scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday about the effect that placing Holder in contempt of Congress would have on his ability to protect the rights of black and Hispanic voters, homeowners and immigrants.

“I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about [on Tuesday],” said Sharpton in a phone interview.

“The question one would have to raise is: If he is held in contempt, under that cloud, how does he fight for voter rights? This compromises the Justice Department from being able to do a lot of fighting.”

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I wrote about Rep. Nancy Pelosi putting out the feelers on this ludicrous argument last week, and now it sounds like Democrats are actually going ahead with it. True, the idea that the Eric Holder contempt vote is connected to his efforts to fight “minority voter suppression” is deranged, not just because it makes no sense from a timeline perspective but also because it would require you to willfully ignore his repeated attempts to hinder the congressional investigation of “Fast and Furious.” Unless you want to try to argue that Republicans somehow forced him to be uncooperative with an investigating committee.

This Democratic pushback campaign is being led by none other than MSNBC “News Anchor” Rev. Al Sharpton, reports The Hill:

At the front of the push is a group of seven national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton…scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday about the effect that placing Holder in contempt of Congress would have on his ability to protect the rights of black and Hispanic voters, homeowners and immigrants.

“I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about [on Tuesday],” said Sharpton in a phone interview.

“The question one would have to raise is: If he is held in contempt, under that cloud, how does he fight for voter rights? This compromises the Justice Department from being able to do a lot of fighting.”

Do news anchors often hold press conferences to attack members of a political party? Congratulations MSNBC, your news channel is officially a laughing stock.

As for the argument about voter suppression, I highly doubt this will be effective. Democrats can’t defend Holder on the merits so they’re trying to change the subject — and people will see through that quickly.

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Pelosi: Contempt Vote Part of Plan to Disenfranchise Minorities

It was only a matter of time before Democrats played the race card on the Eric Holder contempt vote. What else are they going to say? They need to obscure the real issue here as quickly as possible, and what better way than to shout “racist!” again and again at bewildered Republicans?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi set the liberal narrative yesterday afternoon (h/t Joel Gehrke):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.

“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. “This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”

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It was only a matter of time before Democrats played the race card on the Eric Holder contempt vote. What else are they going to say? They need to obscure the real issue here as quickly as possible, and what better way than to shout “racist!” again and again at bewildered Republicans?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi set the liberal narrative yesterday afternoon (h/t Joel Gehrke):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.

“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. “This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”

Did you get that? Republicans are so intent on suppressing the minority vote that they began investigating the Fast and Furious scandal more than a year and a half ago because they suspected that, at some point in the future, Attorney General Eric Holder might attempt to overturn state voter ID laws that nobody had even heard of at the time — and the GOP would have the ultimate trump card ready to foil his plan. That sounds like a much more likely explanation than, say, Holder refusing to turn over thousands of pages of relevant documents to an investigating congressional committee.

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What is the Obama Administration Hiding, and Why Are They Hiding It?

Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

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Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

In a memo today from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, we’re informed, “The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation.”

Grassley went on to make this statement:

This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.

So let’s consider where we are. Congress has been misled several times by the Attorney General. We don’t yet know if Holder committed perjury or was simply incompetent in making the claims he did. But we do know that President Obama, who was once a harsh critic of executive privilege when it came to his predecessor, has suddenly discovered a real fondness for it. Obama, in fact, is now invoking executive privilege in order to prevent Congress for getting the documents it needs in order to investigate a program that was, by any measure, a scandalous failure that led to the deaths of innocent Americans and Mexicans.

Which raises these questions: As Alana noted earlier, what is the Obama administration hiding? And why are they hiding it?

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Executive Power Grab on F&F Documents

Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

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Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

The Department of Justice and the Obama administration is going to try to defend this as a necessary response to a baldly political witch hunt by House Republicans. But will the public buy that at this point? Not only are there numerous signs of behind-the-scenes shadiness that we already know about — the timing inconsistencies, Holder’s misstatements — there’s also the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the top of the story. Is the Obama administration actually going to argue that the family of Agent Brian Terry doesn’t deserve to know the full circumstances surrounding his death?

Obama’s assertion of executive privilege turned this from a political back-and-forth between the DOJ and a congressional committee into a full-blown scandal ensnaring the president. What exactly is hiding in those papers that pushed Obama to take this risk?

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Why Did DOJ Appoint Two Prosecutors for Leak Investigation?

Why did the Department of Justice appoint two prosecutors to lead its leak investigations? That’s the question Sen. Jon Kyl asked Eric Holder during his testimony at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. Holder gave a hopelessly vague and evasive answer, but Kyl’s question is worth asking again, given what we know about the two U.S. Attorneys.

One of these prosecutors, Ronald Machen, is an Obama appointee who donated $4,350 to the Obama campaign, as the blog Fire Andrea Mitchell pointed out. The other is a holdover Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

So one Bush appointee and one Obama donor should balance each other out, right? Actually, no — not necessarily. The DOJ has opened two separate leak investigations with different scopes, and the prosecutors could be asked to lead them separately.

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Why did the Department of Justice appoint two prosecutors to lead its leak investigations? That’s the question Sen. Jon Kyl asked Eric Holder during his testimony at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. Holder gave a hopelessly vague and evasive answer, but Kyl’s question is worth asking again, given what we know about the two U.S. Attorneys.

One of these prosecutors, Ronald Machen, is an Obama appointee who donated $4,350 to the Obama campaign, as the blog Fire Andrea Mitchell pointed out. The other is a holdover Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

So one Bush appointee and one Obama donor should balance each other out, right? Actually, no — not necessarily. The DOJ has opened two separate leak investigations with different scopes, and the prosecutors could be asked to lead them separately.

Here is why this could pose a problem. So far, we have no official word on which leaks each of these probes will be looking into — remember, there have been multiple leaks recently, including the drone “Kill List,” the Flame cyberattack, and the al-Qaeda affiliate story. Will one prosecutor be investigating the Flame story, while another looks into the al-Qaeda Yemen disclosure? We don’t know, and Holder has refused to say.

But, based on a recent Wall Street Journal report, it appears that neither of the two DOJ investigations include the New York Times’s “Kill List” story — the most overtly political and pro-Obama article out of the bunch. Lawfare Blog’s Jack Goldstein draws this conclusion:

If the WSJ is right, it would appear that the investigations do not concern leaks about drone attacks and related matters that, like leaks about the Iranian cyber-operation and the AQAP infiltration, have been the subject of recent congressional complaint.  That would make the leak investigations relatively narrow, and would be relatively good news for the White House since, according to Daniel Klaidman’s book and other indications, some White House officials have participated in disclosure of some of the classified information related to drone attacks.

The Journal reports that one of the investigations is focused on the al-Qaeda Yemen affiliate story, and the other is on the Iranian cyberattack story.

It seems unlikely that the al-Qaeda informant leak was politically motivated, even if it was put out there by high-level administration officials. But the Times’s Iranian cyberattack story was a different beast altogether. From the headline to the Situation Room details, the leaks were clearly a) from top administration officials, and b) intended to make Obama look as good as possible.

In other words, the Iranian cyberattack investigation seems much, much more likely to uncover damaging revelations about the White House than the al-Qaeda informant probe. The question is, will both prosecutors be leading the Iranian cyberattack probe? And if not, which one will the DOJ put in charge of it — the Bush appointee or the Obama donor?

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Cornyn Calls on Holder to Resign

Sen. John Cornyn isn’t the first Republican senator to call for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but he’s the first to do it straight to Holder’s face, which makes it all the more priceless. Click over to The Hill for video of the exchange at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier today. Here’s the critical line from Cornyn, which came after he went through a protracted list of Holder’s numerous misdeeds:

“Mr. Attorney General, it is more with sorrow than anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office.”

“The American people deserve better; they deserve an attorney general who is accountable and independent; they deserve an attorney general who puts justice before politics,” said Cornyn. “And it’s my sincere hope that President Obama will replace you with someone who’s up to that challenge.”

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Sen. John Cornyn isn’t the first Republican senator to call for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but he’s the first to do it straight to Holder’s face, which makes it all the more priceless. Click over to The Hill for video of the exchange at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier today. Here’s the critical line from Cornyn, which came after he went through a protracted list of Holder’s numerous misdeeds:

“Mr. Attorney General, it is more with sorrow than anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative but to join those who call upon you to resign your office.”

“The American people deserve better; they deserve an attorney general who is accountable and independent; they deserve an attorney general who puts justice before politics,” said Cornyn. “And it’s my sincere hope that President Obama will replace you with someone who’s up to that challenge.”

Holder seemed more irritated than rattled by Cornyn’s surprise confrontation. He called the list “factually wrong,” and suggested that the criticism was politically motivated, but reiterated that he would not be stepping down.

This isn’t going to tip the scales or anything for Holder’s resignation, but it could definitely encourage more senators and congressmen to join the resignation calls and increase the political pressure on the DOJ and White House. Cornyn isn’t exactly a firebrand in the Jim DeMint mold, and compared to the other senators who’ve asked Holder to step down, he tends to be more measured. He’s also closer to the Fast and Furious investigation, as the Daily Caller’s Matt Boyle notes.  If he’s taking this step, it means he’s considered it seriously for awhile.

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Boehner: “Justice Dept is Out of Excuses”

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

Issa also told BuzzFeed that he’s given up hope the vote will pressure Holder into turning over the requested documents, and he’s now shifting the burden to President Obama:

Issa said under normal circumstances he’d expect the vote to pressure Holder to turn over the documents, but that now he’s hoping the president intercedes on Congress’ behalf.

“After Thursday’s hearing with the attorney general, no, I don’t expect it, but I would hope that the president would second-guess the man that he says he has full faith and confidence in, and tell him that it’s time to deliver reasonable documents,” Issa said.

The vote will certainly increase the pressure on both the attorney general and the White House, if only because it will incite more media scrutiny and negative press. Contempt votes are extremely rare, and only four officials –  EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, Attorney General Janet Reno, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff John Bolton — have been found in contempt of Congress since 1983.

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