One of the first — and worst — scandals of the Obama Administration occurred early on in the president’s first term: “Operation Fast and Furious,” a scheme devised by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and run through the Justice Department that was ostensibly designed to trace the sale and transfer of high-powered, semi-automatic rifles from dealers in the U.S. to drug cartels in Mexico.
In the end, however, more than 2,000 weapons had been allowed to “walk” across the border, where the ATF and the Justice Department promptly lost track of them. Over the next few years, the weapons would eventually begin to surface — primarily at crime scenes, and, in particular, one in which a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed. A second crime scene involving a gun from the operation was found at a scene in Mexico in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jamie Zapata was killed.
In March 2011, just months after the two officers were killed, President Obama — in an interview with Univision, denied any knowledge of Fast and Furious, and said that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder had authorized it. Later reports, however, revealed evidence that Holder had been briefed about the operation in 2010, prior to the deaths of the two officers.
Holder’s emails to his wife now considered ‘privileged’?
Now, as congressional panels and independent legal organizations move in on the administration as they seek more information regarding the failed operation — including who knew about Fast and Furious and when they knew — the White House is claiming executive privilege over more than 15,000 documents related to the operation.
According to Judicial Watch, one of the legal groups seeking more information from the administration, and The Washington Free Beacon (WFB) news site, some of the documents included in the president’s executive privilege claim are between Holder and his wife.
The WFB further reported:
Last month, a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to release to Judicial Watch the list of documents, known as a “Vaughn index,” that it is withholding from the public, calling its requests for further delays “unconvincing.”
The 1,307-page Vaughn index lists 15,662 documents related to Operation Fast and Furious that the Obama administration is asserting executive privilege over–the first time that full list and description of the records has been released.
Judicial Watch said the withheld documents included communications between top Justice Department officials and those at the ATF, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Also, some 20 emails between Holder and wife, Sharon Malone, are also being excluded.
“Obama’s executive privilege claims over these records are a fraud and an abuse of his office,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records. Americans will be astonished that Obama asserted executive privilege over Eric Holder’s emails to his wife about Fast and Furious.”
Fast and Furious guns continue to turn up at crime scenes
The legal watchdog group has also said that the Justice Department is claiming privilege over press clips that are publicly available, as well as letters from Congress and inter-agency discussions and communications that are normally covered under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“Few of the records seem to even implicate presidential decision-making and advice that might be subject to President Obama’s broad and unprecedented executive privilege claim,” Judicial Watch said in its release.
The group filed its FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department in September 2012 after Holder and other department officials failed to turn over requested documents and communications.
In the months since the murders of U.S. border officers, hundreds of guns involved in the operation have been found at several additional crime scenes, the WFB reported — one as recently as 2013, during a shooting in Phoenix.