The specter of the late Richard M. Nixon hovers over President Barack Obama's White House like a low-lying storm cloud. Over time he has become increasingly contemptuous of Congress and the Supreme Court over their refusal to cooperate in his effort to "transform" America.
Unable to brook disagreement, Obama has traversed the country giving speeches to his base, trying to rally them with rhetoric casting the constitutional separation of powers as an impediment to his agenda rather than a check on his powers as president.
Earlier this month he announced a change in U.S. immigration policy through a presidential executive order that changes the laws already on the books—bypassing Congress to do it. Now he has thrown the blanket of "executive privilege" over a congressional investigation into a Justice Department sting (the operation known as "Fast and Furious") that went horribly wrong and is at least partly responsible for the death of at least one U.S. law enforcement official.
The House of Representatives has been looking into Fast and Furious for some time. It wants documents from Attorney General Eric Holder that Holder has refused to provide, despite the fact that Congress has subpoenaed them. Hours before a congressional committee was to hold a vote on whether to cite Holder for contempt, Obama attempted to short circuit the whole process by asserting "executive privilege" over the documents in question.
It has all the earmarks of a cover up. The administration has already been embarrassed by certain revelations already produced by the investigation into "Fast and Furious." The documents Congress wants would probably make that embarrassment more acute, if not actually produce evidence that officials at the Justice Department may have lied during the course of the investigation. The use of "executive privilege" to prevent Congress from getting its hands on the documents in question makes it look a lot like the administration is stonewalling.
Obama still has to certify, in writing, exactly why "executive privilege" applies—how the documents in question represent work product that should be protected out of respect for the same constitutional separation of powers that the president frequently regards as an impediment to his agenda. It will be interesting to see what he says. In the mean while, Congress should—and likely will—keep up the pressure on Obama, on Attorney General Holder, and others in the administration who are obstructing the right of the people's house to know just what happened in the "Fast and Furious" operation.