The scandal that started it, just how executive privilege works, and what can come following in the residence investigation


Attorney general Eric Holder testifies in ~ a February house hearing about Fast and Furious. (Reuters)

What is Fast and also Furious?

For years, the U.S. Government ran fancy "gunwalking" procedure on the mexico border. It was a high-stakes sting procedure in i beg your pardon the office of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and also Explosives -- a part of the Justice department -- opted no to prevent purchases of weapons that it suspected were intended because that smuggling across the border by traffickers. The goal was to let "straw buyers" acquisition the guns and also move castle to large traffickers, but to stop the weapons prior to they moved throughout the border. It"s a an approach that regulation enforcement agencies have actually used for part time -- the ATF to be doing it at least as far earlier as 2006. The specific operation dubbed "Fast and Furious" days to 2009 and also was supposedly initiated by one ATF certified dealer in Phoenix.

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Did it work?

Not really -- justice can"t allude to a single instance of a significant boss the procedure took down. Yet as one could imagine, the ATF to be unable to keep track of all of the guns. In fact, the company managed to shed track of some 2,000 guns. Those weapons were later connected to various violent crimes. Most notably, two were uncovered at the step after a Border Patrol agent called Brian terry was killed in a firefight top top December 10, 2010 v suspected illegal immigrant in Arizona (it"s unclear whether among the guns fired the cartridge that killed him). Reports complying with that killing revealed the the firearms had been component of a tracking operation.

Is anyone defending Fast and also Furious?

Not really. In early 2011, the justice Department wrote in a letter to Congress that no firearms had been intentionally permitted to "walk," i m sorry it says was based upon statements indigenous ATF officials. The letter was retracted when it ended up being clear the it was wrong. There"s currently a consensus that the operation was botched, yet two questions remain. First, who approved that -- was Fast and Furious the occupational of a rogue ATF, or did Attorney general Eric Holder (or perhaps even President Obama) recognize of or give it? Second, has actually there been an effort to mislead Congress around the operation through a cover-up? on the first question, the department insists that only the ATF"s Phoenix office authorized the sting. At part point, however, the U.S. Lawyer in Phoenix became aware, as did the exhilaration director that the ATF. Both were forced to resign in respectable 2011 ~ Issa uncovered emails showing they"d been briefed. Justice claims it"s no trying to cover noþeles up, noting the it has actually turned over 7,600 documents and also that Holder has testified prior to Congress nine times around Fast and also Furious.

What taken place Wednesday?

Darrell Issa, a California Republican who heads the home Oversight and also Government Committee, has actually been demanding additional documents and also threatening to try to hold the attorney general in contempt of congress if that didn"t turn them over (more on the later). So Wednesday morning, exhilaration on Holder"s request, Obama check executive privilege in response to a request from Holder. In a letter to Obama, Holder suggests that the files Issa is requesting aren"t really pertained to Fast and also Furious, because they post-date it, and that releasing them would damage confidentiality in ~ the executive branch. The letter came after negotiations late Tuesday -- in i beg your pardon Holder offered to release some papers in return because that dropping the contempt proceedings -- failed. Issa, however, was unswayed by Obama"s assertion and also went forward with a poll in the monitor Committee. The committee vote in favor of hold Holder in contempt by a 23-17 margin, follow me party lines.

What does executive, management privilege mean?

The expression refers come a president"s appropriate to a specific degree the confidentiality in his decision-making, but what it means in practice is sort of hazy. It has long been an embraced concept, but since it"s no spelled out almost everywhere in the constitution or elsewhere, it"s not clear how sweeping that right is, and also who that covers: just the president? Communications in between the president and advisers? cabinet members? Typically, politicians have tried to keep executive privilege concerns out the court, which has actually kept its borders vague. Because that much, lot more, check out this linked Press explainer and this congressional Research organization report.

Is the executive privilege claim unprecedented?

No, yet it is unusual. The Obama White House has never prior to claimed executive, management privilege. George W. Shrub used it six times, invoice Clinton four, and George H.W. Shrub once. It"s also somewhat problematic because that Obama. Together Conor Friedersdorf points out, candidate Obama criticized its invocation by the shrub Administration, as soon as it was used, for example, to shot to cover increase the political firings that U.S. Attorneys. It"s likewise a small unclear exactly how the papers are also sensitive come hand over if Holder was undoubtedly willing to profession them because that dropping the contempt proceeding.

What does it typical if congress holds Eric Holder in contempt?

For the record, he"s not yet in contempt -- the full House has to vote, i m sorry would take place next week. (Before you make the joke around how polls present the rest of America currently holds congress in contempt, stop. It"s to be made a million time already.) it would also be an inexplicable move. In fact, a sit attorney general has never been organized in contempt; in 1998, the monitor Committee recommended that Janet Reno be hosted in contempt, yet the reference was never brought to a poll of the entire House. Yet the relocate is greatly symbolic. As Dana Milbank mentioned today, the person who would have to prosecute Holder because that refusing come cooperate through Congress would be ... The lawyer general, Eric Holder.

What space the national politics here?

If you"re just hearing around Fast and also Furious this week, you probably don"t read much conservative media. Although some of the huge scoops in the instance have come from significant newspapers and also the linked Press, it has really been a cause celebre in partisan outlets favor Fox News and also the Daily Caller, where Holder is viewed as among the major villains of the Obama Administration. Issa, who took over the committee in 2011 between hyperbolic insurance claims that the Obama White residence was "one that the most corrupt administrations" in history, hasn"t yielded any major scalps, so he"s passionate for a major win. Over there is a strong whiff of election-year fishing to this case, a allude Holder do in a statement responding come the oversight Committee vote.

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But together Conor Friedersdorf point out out, just because an investigation is politically urged doesn"t median it won"t uncover real wrongdoing. Presumably, there"s miscellaneous in the withheld records that Holder doesn"t desire to do public -- no necessarily legal wrongdoing, yet perhaps something that would certainly look bad for that or Obama. Through asserting executive privilege, the Obama administration is doubling down. The White home is stand behind Holder, and also bringing the president much more directly right into the issue than he has actually been before. Obama is gambling that the executive, management privilege case will hold, and also that that won"t be giant embarrassed prior to November. On the other hand, the story has now irreversibly damaged from the partisan fringes right into the mainstream, and also his action will virtually certainly it is in fodder for attacks throughout the presidential campaign.