Following up on a tip Sunday to ABC News' Jake Tapper on ' This Week,' Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, has sent a letter to President Obama that challenges the president's invocation of executive privilege as the committee seeks documents from the Department of Justice.
The White House quickly dismissed the letter as an "absurd" analysis, in which Issa recaps and questions the Obama administration's role in the Fast and Furious gun walking operation.
In the 7-page letter dated June 25, Issa writes that the highest courts in the country have held that the assertion of the constitutionally-based executive privilege "is only applicable with respect to documents and communications that implicate the confidentiality of the President's decision-making process, defined as those documents and communications to and from the President and his most senior advisors."
Issa, R-Calif., then questions Obama whether Attorney General Eric Holder or anyone at the White House was involved in a cover-up.
"Your privilege assertion means one of two things," he writes. "Either you or your most senior advisors were involved in managing Operation Fast & Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the Attorney General to the Committee, or, you are asserting a Presidential power that you know to be unjustified solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."
Administration officials maintain that the president did not know about the operation, but assert that the White House has the constitutional authority to invoke executive privilege "even when White House documents are not involved."
"The Congressman's analysis has as much merit as his absurd contention that Operation Fast and Furious was created in order to promote gun control," White House Spokesman Eric Schultz wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday morning. "Our position is consistent with Executive Branch legal precedent for the past three decades spanning Administrations of both parties, and dating back to President Reagan's Department of Justice. The Courts have routinely considered deliberative process privilege claims and affirmed the right of the executive branch to invoke the privilege even when White House documents are not involved."
Issa previously told Tapper that the letter would break down "why the president's executive privilege claim is either overbroad or simply wrong." He maintains that he only broke off negotiations for the documents with Holder when the committee "got a flat refusal to give us information needed for our investigation."
"Our hope is that, as to at least a lot of these documents, including the documents often referred to as 1300, that were offered to us in this deal, that at least since those were offered to us, that…we would see them," Issa told Tapper on Sunday. "If those documents say what Eric Holder says they say, we might, in fact, dismiss contempt in either case, but I can tell you one thing here: If we get documents that…cast some doubt or allow us to understand this, we'll at least delay contempt and continue the process."
In the letter, Issa once again states that he is holding out hope that DOJ will comply with his subpoena request prior to a vote on a contempt citation in the full House of Representatives that's scheduled for Thursday. He also calls on the administration to enumerate "the universe of documents over which [Obama] asserted executive privilege and provide the Committee with the legal justification from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel," and he makes another run at White House documents.
"So that the Committee and the public can better understand your role, and the role of your most senior advisors, in connection with Operation Fast and Furious, please clarify the question raised by your assertion of executive privilege: To what extent were you or your most senior advisors involved in Operation Fast and Furious and the fallout from it, including the false February 4, 2011 letter provided by the Attorney General to the Committee?" Issa demands. "Please also identify any communications, meetings, and teleconferences between the White House and the Justice Department between February 4, 2011 and June 18, 2012, the day before the Attorney General requested that you assert executive privilege."
If a resolution is not reached, the House is expected to approve the contempt citation on Thursday in what would become the first instance of either chamber of Congress voting to hold the U.S. attorney general in contempt of Congress. Last week Issa's committee voted along party lines to send the contempt resolution on to the full House.
**this post has been updated to reflect a statement from the White House