The confrontation between the Obama administration and a House committee over documents related to the botched Fast and Furious investigation obviously has election-year political overtones. But it also involves serious questions of policy and law. Instead of playing a constitutional game of chicken, the administration and Congress should resume negotiations toward an accommodation.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to hold Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over internal emails and other documents related to Fast and Furious, an operation in which thousands of firearms were deliberately circulated by the U.S.Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives along the Southwest border and ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The panel acted hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege in connection with the documents.
It's tempting to dismiss this controversy as political theater on which the curtain will drop after the November election. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the committee, is a partisan Republican who has accused the Obama Justice Department of "flawed and weak leadership." Democrats have reflexively defended the administration, calling Issa's investigation a kangaroo court and a witch hunt. You don't need a long memory to recall that the parties have traded places since the George W. Bush administration, when a Democratic-controlled House committee found Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to testify about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.