|SITREP - June 22nd 2012|
This week, the House took a rare step in asserting its constitutional authority over the White House. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee formally voted to hold the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress.
The backstory is this (if you already know all about Fast and Furious, skip to the break):
In 2009, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms began running an operation called Fast and Furious. The stated purpose of the operation was to track the flow of illegal weapons to the drug cartels in Mexico. The ATF arranged for undercover sales of weapons across the border and intended to track those weapons to their ultimate destination. Before long, however, the operation failed and the ATF lost track of the guns – roughly a thousand of them.
Some time later, two of those lost weapons turned up in the shooting death of an American law enforcement officer operating in Mexico. The officer’s family was devastated.
Congress, acting in its constitutionally-directed oversight role, started looking for answers as to how the operation – poorly conceived, poorly planned, and poorly executed – was allowed to move forward. Specifically, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA), set out to understand who within the Department of Justice knew about and ultimately authorized the failed operation.
In early hearings, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that he had no knowledge of the operation. Frankly, for me personally, it was at that point that I knew there was more to the story. Here is why:
In no uncertain terms, without any qualification whatsoever, when I was sheriff of Hernando County, there is no way – no way - that an operation of such significance, such risk, and such severe consequences for failure would not have been signed off on by me personally. As the top official in the Sheriff’s Office, the final go-ahead would have come from me and me alone.
The United States Attorney General is the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the country. He is the head of the Department of Justice, and under that umbrella, the ATF. There is no way imaginable, in my estimation, that such an unorthodox, dangerous and zero-fail operation could have been undertaken without his say-so. And if it was undertaken without his knowledge, then in my opinion, he was grossly mismanaging the Department.
It was for those reasons (and others) that I called for his resignation some months ago. Simultaneously, however, the House Oversight Committee has been investigating the failed operation: who was involved, what went wrong in the chain of command, how this situation can be prevented in the future, and so on.
In a word, the Attorney General has refused to comply with that investigation. When the committee was forced to issue a subpoena for certain documents related to Fast and Furious, because the Department had refused to willingly turn them over, the Attorney General refused again.
In my view, this is an issue that all Americans should know about and understand. This isn’t just about a tragic death of an American law enforcement officer. It isn’t just about getting to the bottom of a poorly-run Department of Justice. This is about restoring the basic system of checks and balances that our Constitution demands.
Most Americans don’t think about this, but as the federal government has grown over the years, the inherent power of the executive branch has also grown. And when you add to that years and years of Congress and the Supreme Court rolling over to allow presidential overreach, the power of the executive branch has grown even more.
This is not a new phenomenon and it isn’t limited to presidents of either party. Presidents of all stripes - and since the beginning of the republic - have sought to expand the reach of their power. They’ve all done – some just more than others.
President Obama, in my view, has taken it especially far.
Consider Libya for a moment. The Constitution is very explicit that the President of the United States does not have the authority to declare war on another country. The Congress, and Congress alone, has that authority. Subsequent acts of Congress have granted the executive branch the limited authority to commit US forces, but only for a very short amount of time. In order to continue hostilities past that date, the President must obtain specific authorization from Congress.
In the case of Libya, President Obama flatly refused to seek that authorization – even after the thirty day window came and went. In my view, both the press and Congress let him get away with it. Congress rolled over again.
Every time that happens, and every time the Supreme Court shrinks from its responsibility to ensure the law follows the Constitution, our republic gets weaker. Our system of government becomes less like the Founders intended and more like what they risked their lives to prevent.
That may sound dramatic, but consider the facts. When Congress (and a Democrat-controlled Congress at that) refused to pass the President’s Cap and Trade law, his administration literally tried to side-step Congress and implement the law by executive order. I don’t care how right a President may think he is about an issue, he does not have the power to make laws by edict – and certainly not something as huge as Cap and Trade.
Whether it is obvious or not, it is this very principle that we are fighting over today. I think most Americans, fed up at all of the petty partisan fights in Washington, will look at this situation and roll their eyes thinking they are witnessing another frivolous fight. But in my view, this fight is very different. This is the first time in a long time, that the United States Congress has refused to back down in the face of a White House that thinks it answers to no one.
The Founders set up a government where Congress had oversight authority over the president – through the power of the purse, through the required Senate confirmation of executive branch officials, and through the ability to investigate (and impeach, if necessary) those same executive branch officials – right up to an including the president himself.
So in short, under our Constitution, when the United States Congress says to the White House, “we want the documents”, you give them the documents. You don’t get to refuse. You turn over the documents or you are in violation of the law. I don’t care which party is in control. I don’t care what the motivation is behind the request. When Congress sends a subpoena to the White House, the White House complies. Period.
And that’s where we are today. Eric Holder has had eight months to comply with the Oversight Committee’s request. He has steadily refused to do so. And as a result, the Oversight Committee has now voted to hold him in contempt of Congress. Next week, the full House will likely follow suit.
I, for one, fully support that decision and will be voting yes on that resolution.
As always, I would appreciate your feelings about this. And if you have friends and neighbors who you think should weigh in, please feel free to forward this along to them as well.