Obama faces hypocrisy charge after saving A-G
WASHINGTON: The decision by the US President, Barack Obama, to assert executive privilege to shield his Attorney-General and the Justice Department from congressional investigators has reignited a long-running Washington debate over the limits of White House power in which Mr Obama has argued both sides.
The administration is refusing to turn over documents related to the Justice Department’s ”Fast and Furious” operation, which involved the flow of illegal guns to Mexico. A House of Representatives committee on Wednesday voted to find the Attorney-General, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over the documents.
In 2007, Mr Obama, then a senator with higher ambitions, chided the then president George Bush for employing his executive authority to block then senior White House adviser Karl Rove from testifying before Congress in a scandal involving the firing of nine US attorneys.
Speaking to CNN host Larry King, Mr Obama had declared the Bush administration had a tendency to ”hide behind executive privilege every time there’s something a little shaky”.
Mr Obama had urged Mr Bush to consider ”coming clean”, adding ”the American people deserve to know what was going on there”.
On Wednesday, his role had changed, but the debate was the same: Republicans were asking what Mr Obama was trying to hide by invoking his privilege right for the first time.
The answers to his critics’ questions could have broad implications five months before voters decide whether to grant a second term. The expected protracted legal dispute has the potential to embarrass and distract the White House during the heart of the re-election campaign. Mr Obama’s assertion of privilege quickly became fodder for his political opponents, who have latched on to the scandal to accuse the President of trying to avoid congressional scrutiny.
Officials dismissed suggestions the President’s action contradicted the position he held as a presidential candidate in 2007. They noted the administration already has handed over 7600 documents and Mr Holder has testified nine times.
The White House spokesman Eric Schultz noted that Mr Obama has shown greater reluctance to use executive privilege than his two immediate predecessors.
Mr Bush invoked the power six times and Bill Clinton 14, according to the Congressional Research Service.
But Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University who has testified before Congress on executive privilege, said the political calculus for the White House is whether what Mr Obama is seeking to keep private is more damaging to him than failing to disclose the documents.
”Every time a president claims executive privilege, it brings up memories of President Nixon‘s abuses”, Mr Rozell said.