For the first time, President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege, a power used by the Executive Branch of the U.S. government to deny requests for documents or reject subpoenas to compel testimony by senior officials. Obama acted before a congressional committee voted along party lines to cite the U.S. attorney general for contempt.
Obama invoked the rarely-used power in response to a request from Attorney General Eric Holder, who is involved in an 18 month investigation into Fast and Furious, a failed sting operation in which U.S. authorities permitted some 2,000 guns originating in the United States to flow into Mexico as part of efforts to identify and dismantle arms trafficking networks.
Gun-walking, as it is known, is prohibited under Department of Justice rules, but was used on a trial basis during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Two of the weapons later were found to have been used in the shooting death of a U.S. border patrol agent.
Holder, who heads the Department of Justice, turned over more than 7,000 documents to lawmakers and wanted assurances that additional information he might supply would satisfy a subpoena from the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Holder and Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican, failed to reach a compromise. The committee voted 23 to 17 to cite Holder for contempt, but not before a heated debate erupted between Democrats and Republicans.