With a vote looming to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, a House committee chairman is challenging President Barack Obama's claim of executive privilege, invoked to maintain secrecy for some documents related to a failed gun-tracking operation.
Obama's claim broadly covers administration documents about the program called Operation Fast and Furious, not just those prepared for the president. But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that recommended the contempt charge, maintains the privilege is reserved for documents to and from the president and his most senior advisers.
In a letter to the president dated Monday and made public Tuesday, Issa cited an appellate court decision to back his claim and questioned whether Obama was asserting a presidential power "solely for the purpose of further obstructing a congressional investigation."
Some experts agree with the president's view that all executive branch documents are protected from disclosure. Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane, a specialist in presidential power, says executive privilege historically covers documents generated anywhere in the executive branch.
Behind the legal argument is a political dispute. House Republican leaders are pressing for a contempt vote against Holder by Friday, unless they can work out a deal that breaks through the administration's privilege claim.