Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eric Holder warns of ‘constitutional crisis’

Tim Mack
Josh Gersten

Under threat of a House contempt citation over the botched Fast and Furious gun-walking operation, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke in a conciliatory tone Tuesday about his willingness for “compromises” to avoid what he called “an impending constitutional crisis” over the withholding of documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

“We are prepared to make – I am prepared to make - compromises with regard to the documents that can be made available,” said Holder in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I want to make it very clear that I am offering – I myself – to sit down with the Speaker, the chairman, with you, whoever, to try and work our way through this in an attempt to avoid a constitutional crisis, and come up with ways, creative ways, in which to make this material available. But I’ve got to have a willing partner. I’ve extended my hand, and I’m waiting to hear back,” he added in response to a question about the subpoenaed documents posed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.)

Holder’s remarks were his most aggressive public offer yet to wheel and deal with Congress to head off a dramatic contempt showdown — Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has scheduled a vote on the citation for June 20 in his committee.

After using the phrase “constitutional crisis” at least three times, Holder noted two hours into the hearingthat “constitutional conflict” might be a better term.

At issue between Republicans and Democrats are the withholding of Justice Department documents in response to a Congressional subpoena. The DOJ claims that previous administrations have reserved the right to withhold deliberative documents.

“There is a basis for the withholding of these documents… the tradition has always been, by members of the Justice Department, whether they were Republicans or Democrats, to withhold deliberative material,” argued Holder. “We have reached out to Chairman Issa, members of the leadership on the House side, to try to work our way through these issues.”

One possible area of compromise appeared to be the issue of wiretap applications related to Fast and Furious that are confidential because they are under a court-ordered seal.

“Will you seek the court’s permission to release the affidavit so that people can read them… and if there’s any problem with something sensitive, could the judge make a decision to remove any truly sensitive information before release?” asked Grassley.

“That would be a truly extraordinary act… I am willing to consider that as a possibility to try to avoid what I think is an impending constitutional crisis,” responded Holder. “We want to make sure that if we do share that information it does not have an impact on ongoing investigations.”
The Attorney General’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee marks the ninth time he’s testified before Congress in the last 16 months on the issue of Fast and Furious. However, he did not seem in a rush to address the matter, declining to speak about it in opening remarks.

Holder’s conciliatory tone was echoed Monday morning by House Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) in a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
“Yesterday, you informed Committee Members that you scheduled a business meeting next week to vote on your draft contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder. I continue to believe that it is possible to resolve outstanding questions regarding this investigation without resorting to contempt,” wrote Cummings.

The Fast and Furious gun-walking operation aimed to investigate drug cartels and weapons traffickers but instead ended up supplying them with weapons. Investigators lost thousands of firearms, many of which crossed the border into Mexico.

Later, firearms linked to the operation were found at the scene of the Dec. 2010 shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

Terry’s death led to publicity related to the operation, which the attorney general has previously called “tragic and completely unacceptable.” Holder maintains that he was not aware of the tactics used in the gun-walking operation while it was underway.

Last year, three whistleblowers testified about gun-walking before the House Oversight Committee.
“Here we are, one year later, and the Terry family is still waiting for answers, they’re still waiting for justice. The FBI doesn’t have the shooter in custody, and the Justice Department [hasn’t fully responded to] a subpoena about how all this happened,” Grassley told Holder at the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.

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