Issa Accuses President Obama of Wrongfully Using Executive Privilege

Issa says either Obama is holding up an investigation or he knew more about Fast and Furious.

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The House of Representatives has scheduled a contempt vote Thursday against Attorney General Eric Holder, who withheld thousands of subpoenaed documents related to Operation Fast and Furious. And while the vote is still a few days off, the political fireworks leading up to the first-ever House floor contempt vote of an Attorney General are already white-hot.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is taking the shot at President Barack Obama for invoking executive privilege last week, just minutes before a contempt vote was scheduled in his committee. The move looked to be an 11th-hour attempt to hold off the contempt charge, but it ultimately failed, leading the committee to vote 23 to 17 to hold the attorney general in contempt. [Read Debate Club: Should Eric Holder Lose His Job?]

Issa sent a letter to Obama Monday accusing him of unlawfully using executive privilege and alleging that the president's use of the White House's most powerful tool could be interpreted as an admission that the president knew more than he is willing to admit about the botched gunwalking scandal.

An executive order is "the only privilege that every can justify the withholding of documents from a congressional committee," Issa wrote it "is only applicable with respect to documents and communications that implicate the confidentiality of the President's decision-making process, defined as those documents and communications to and from the President and his most senior advisors."

White House spokesman Eric Schultz says Issa's got it all wrong, adding the president's move was one supported by past administrations. [See the Latest Political Cartoons From U.S. News & World Report.]

"The Congressman's analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control," Schultz said. "Our position is consistent with executive branch legal precedent for the past three decades spanning administrations of both parties, and dating back to President Reagan's Department of Justice. The Courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved."

But Issa continues to claim its an administrative admission of guilt.

"Your privilege assertion means one of two things," Issa wrote. "Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it...or you are asserting a presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."

"To date, the White House has steadfastly maintained that it has not had any role in advising the department with respect to the congressional investigation," Issa said. "The surprising assertion of executive privilege raised the question of whether that is still the case."

Issa, however, also signaled in the letter there is one way the contempt vote could still be held off Thursday, writing he is "hopeful that the attorney general will produce the specified documents so that we can work towards resolving this matter short of a contempt citation."