Boehner's Executive Privilege Test

Boehner's Executive Privilege Test

To get a sense of John Boehner’s dilemma throughout the Fast & Furious investigation, one needs to look back to the days of the Clinton impeachment. Boehner had a front-row seat as then-Speaker Newt Gingrich aggressively led his caucus to approve Articles of Impeachment against Bill Clinton. This resulted in an historic Constitutional crisis between Congress and the President. In the end, Clinton survived and, in the next election, the GOP lost seats and Gingrich lost the Speaker’s gavel. 

Throughout the unfolding Fast & Furious scandal, it’s been clear that Boehner has wanted to avoid a Constitutional show-down with the White House. The conflict with Holder, and the push for a contempt citation, as been driven by Rep. Issa and rank-and-file members of the Oversight Committee. Boehner does tend to give Committee Chairmen wide latitude on issues under their jurisdiction, but his hand’s off approach on such a major scandal didn’t go unnoticed. He often had to clarify in the press that Issa and the investigation continued to have his support. 

In many ways, Boehner’s reluctance is understandable. With the continued deterioration of the economy, it isn’t like the GOP has to go and find issues on which to campaign against Obama and the Democrats. When the GOP has the upper-hand in the top two or three issues on voters’ minds, i’ts politically unwise to focus on other issues that could become a distraction. But, sometimes issues arise on their own and raise such significant questions that a leader has no choice but to address them head-on. This is one of those times. 

It’s ridiculous to compare Fast & Furious with the Clinton scandal. While that involved the serious charge that the President lied under oath, the consequences of that lie were fairly insignificant. The obfuscations from the White House then weren’t covering up potentially serious crimes or threats to the public. Fast & Furious is several orders of magnitude more serious. Please see the work of Mary Chastain and AWR Hawkins for the full details, but, suffice it to say, this is the only political scandal with hundreds of body bags. 

Because of the seriousness of the scandal, and the fact that it led directly to the murder of at least one federal agent, there is an urgent need to know and understand all of the actions that led to these events. The DOJ has turned over a great many documents, many of which have raised more troubling questions, but have refused to release those relating to how the DOJ ended up lying to Congress about the scandal. It was its refusal to release these documents related to the DOJ’s communication with Congress that were the chief impetus for the contempt vote against Holder. And it was these documents that Obama is currently shielding with his invoking of Executive Privilege. 

As the Vice President would say, “this is a big f%^#ing deal.” As Breitbart contributor Ken Klukowski explains, the Administration is likely to lose the fight over Executive Privilege in this instance. But the gauntlet thrown down in front of Congress is very clear. If the Oversight Committee, which has jurisdiction here, can be denied access to documents related to how the DOJ came to lie to the Committee, then Congress’ ability to properly oversee the actions of the Executive Branch will be severely diminished. This isn’t strictly about Fast & Furious, but also whether the DOJ can mislead a congressional investigation of a major scandal and escape accountability for those lies. 

Boehner may not have wanted a showdown with the Executive Branch, but Barack Obama just handed him one. How Boehner responds to Obama’s challenge may come to define his Speakership and his place in history. 

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