The Obama administration has asserted executive privilege on certain documents requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating the Fast and Furious scandal, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Committee chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., pledged to carry on with contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder despite the president's privilege assertion.
Congress' power to investigate and issue contempt citations for noncompliance is not expressly authorized by the Constitution, according to Findlaw. Despite the lack of specific Constitutional authority for the practice, its use is entrenched and dates back to shortly after the founding of the republic.
If Holder is held in contempt by the Congress, he will join a short list of executive dept. officials. Here are some of the more serious cases:
* Rita Lavelle was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund when she was found guilty of lying to a Congressional committee in 1983. As described by the LA Times, Lavelle went to prison for her testimony in a scandal that led to the firing or resignation of 22 EPA personnel including its administrator. Lavelle allegedly lied about her receipt of information her former employer violated environmental regulations and her warning the company of potential repercussions.
* Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was held in contempt of Congress in 1975 but the matter was resolved when Congress agreed to accept "substantial compliance" with its subpoena. The dispute involved Soviet compliance with arms agreements. Kissinger said he was acting at the direction of President Gerald Ford.
* The Secretary of the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., was held in contempt for failing to turn over documents detailing the inside scoop on the manufacture and labeling of brand name and generic drugs. Congress could have subpoenaed the information directly from the pharmaceutical manufacturers but declined to do so, a Congressional Research Service report to Congress on subpoenas and contempt powers noted. Califano ultimately complied with the subpoena, ending the dispute.
* Attorney General Janet Reno was the subject of a Congressional contempt citation in 1998, according to the CRS report. Reno refused to turn over documents sent to her by the head of the FBI recommending appointment of special counsel to investigation possible campaign finance wrongdoing. Reno offered a briefing by Justice staff as an alternative, but the Chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee refused and the committee cited her for contempt. The full house did not support the committee's contempt action.
- Politics & Government
- Rita Lavelle
- Darrell Issa