U.S. Rep. Timothy V. Johnson issued the following statement today after voting with the majority of Congresss to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress:
"I stand with my colleagues in voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. This action is not taken casually but with a firmness of conviction that none of us are above the law. The assertion of executive privilege by the President is yet another example of this Administration attempting to centralize its authority and disregard the House of Representatives.
"At issue are documents subpoenaed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October, 2011. Wiretap applications provided by whistleblowers establish that senior Justice Department officials were involved in the "Fast and Furious" scheme. The Justice Department even retracted its earlier denials, but has consistently failed to produce any of the documents that led to the wiretaps.
"If, in fact, executive privilege is arguably justified in this case, that some national security interest warrants this secrecy, one has to wonder why the White House waited until minutes before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee began deliberations on the contempt decision to assert this privilege. The documents were subpoenaed eight months ago.
"Two-hundred Mexican citizens, along with Border Agent Brian Terry, have lost their lives as a direct result of this fatally flawed and clumsy gunwalking exercise. Agent Terry, a Marine veteran, was shot in the back with a modern military-grade assault weapon provided by the Justice Department to Mexican smugglers. Theoretically orchestrated to track guns across the border into hands of Mexican gun cartels, the Justice Department ham-handedly bungled the monitoring end and allowed more than 2,000 assault weapons to reach the hands of murderers.
"The President's assertion of privilege in this regard suggests the Administration's complicity. The President asserted he had no advance knowledge; however, the right of executive privilege does not extend to matters not involving the White House. The Justice Department was created by Congress and is answerable to Congress.
"One of the hypocrisies in this entire scenario is that as the junior Senator from Illinois, in 2007, Obama repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration for asserting executive privilege to cover up his reasons for firing several U.S. attorneys. Now Holder has cited rationalizations used by the Bush Administration to cover up his own failures.
"It is instructive to note that the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon in 1974 unanimously ruled that executive privilege cannot be invoked to shield wrongdoing. That is what the President was doing at the time and as we painfully learned, it was wrong. It is the duty of Congress to make these inquiries and discover the documents in question specifically to ascertain whether wrongdoing has occurred. In the Nixon case, the right to obtain the documents received bipartisan support, which led to the rare 9-0 ruling ordering the release of the requested documents.
"These actions on the part of the Administration are part of what one can only conclude is a deliberate and disturbing pattern of centralizing power to bypass the will of Congress. We have seen this with EPA proposals, Department of Labor proposals and Department of Transportation proposals all having to do with edicts that subvert the will of the people as expressed through Congress. Unelected individuals, at any level of government, cannot and should not make the law.
"Last week, the President continued this pattern by acting to suspend deportations of immigrants brought here illegally as children. This unilateral act is in direct defiance of Congress. In 2010, he asked Congress to pass the Dream Act. Congress refused, for a variety of good reasons. Now the President says it doesn't matter.
Apparently it doesn't matter either that the Justice Department can lose sight of more than 2,000 guns. I find this contemptible. The Attorney General deserves Congress' contempt. We are left no choice but to act as the majority of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has recommended."