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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Executive privilege claim takes Capitol Hill by storm

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, then Senator Obama and senator Reid back in 2007 commenting on the Bush administration invoking executive privilege back then about a U.S. attorney investigation. We're back with the panel.  Bill, those sound bites are striking now. 

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: They are. Not the first time that President Obama is doing something that, as senator, he thought was just unconscionable and how could you do that? But I suppose he's decided that transparency is a little less important than he would claim preserving some kind of I guess cloak of secrecy over internal administration deliberations. 

But I think as we said on the first panel, what is striking is this is not sensitive national security deliberations. These are not White House staffers, presumably -- maybe they are -- talking with the Justice Department. At least as presented, it's internal Justice Department discussions about how to respond to a Congressional investigation and to media inquiries. Some of it could be embarrassing, but is it really something that the president has to exert executive privilege – exert his executive privilege over? 

BAIER: Because, really, Katie, they are looking for these e-mails or documents after February, 2011, when the Justice Department has then said they did not, the ATF did not let guns walk. Later, in 2011 they have to retract that statement. They are looking for the documents in between that time. 

I want to put up this quote from the attorney general in reaction to this hearing today and the vote in the committee for contempt. He said "[Chairman Issa] has chosen to be use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented, and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the executive branch... When Chairman Issa later began his own investigation," he goes on the say, "I made it clear the department would cooperate with all appropriate oversight requests, while still adhering to our legal obligations to protect information involving ongoing law enforcement investigations, legally-protected grand jury material and other sensitive information whose disclosure would endanger the American people and our agents investigating open cases. The American people deserve better." 

The question is, does that fall in to what he is talking about here? 

KATIE PAVLICH, TOWNHALL.COM: I'm not sure. Yesterday the attorney general was supposed to meet with Congressman -- Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, and he was going to come forth with these 1,300 documents and turn them over. But instead he came to the meeting and said I will give you these documents and brief you on them so long as you drop your congressional investigation into Fast and Furious. 

And so it's been 18 months. Senator Grassley has been investigating this from the Senate side. Chairman Issa has been at this since last year. And they've really come to an impasse in terms of the documents that they've asked for. And once again they asked for 70,000 documents. They narrowed it down to 1,300, and the attorney general failed to deliver. 

BAIER: Is it your suspicion that this goes somewhere into the White House at some level? 

PAVLICH: I think so. Like I said earlier, it's either the White House had more involvement in this than they have admitted before. If you go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, President Obama gave his attorney general direct orders to reassess gun trafficking policy on the border, he also told this to Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary. And they made gun trafficking and the stopping of the drug cartels down there a top priority. And you fast forward to today and they clearly don't want the American public to see what is going on with these communications. 

BAIER: A.B., Charles touched on the politics of this. And obviously, it could go both ways. Your thoughts on how it plays. 

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I think the politics are mixed. I mean, I think that what you see happening in the House among Republicans was an initial resistance to this going full speed ahead. We said last week, Charles and I agreed last week, we thought we'd see committee vote for contempt not likely full House vote. Now we're looking at full House vote. They are under enormous pressure, the leadership is, from their conference to go through with this. And members who are looking for a face -- what they're calling a face-saving deal hope -- that in the coming days something could materialize to stop this. But it looks like we'll see a contempt vote.

I don't know that independent voters remember that Democrats when they were in charge held Harriet Miers, Bush's chief of staff -- or top advisor to President Bush and legal counsel to President Bush in contempt in the Congress. I don't know that they paid for it politically. 

There are so few remaining persuadable voters in this election, they are so worried about the economy, I do not think they are paying attention to this. I think the people that follow this story are people who are going to vote against the president. I don't think this is going to change any minds. I think people in recent memory have seen way too many congressional oversight investigations and attorneys general in the cross hairs of Congress in recent memory. And I think as I said, those who are left un-persuaded are going to make up their minds about the economy. And right now, President Obama is the underdog. 

BAIER: Charles? 

KRAUTHAMMER: I think A.B. touched upon the disconnect between what Democrats said about this kind of investigation under Bush and what they are saying now. But there is a second one, more recent disconnect, which is in the Holder statement, the rest of that statement he says I've cooperated with their requests, except that I won't make disclosures that would endanger the American people or our agents in the field. 

Well, this administration that has just leaked everything you want to know about Stuxnet, the secret war against Iran, has just leaked details about the drone war, about the double agent in Yemen, about all kinds of things. Including this morning, front page of the Washington Post, the flame virus, the other one now active. And it's done it not a leak, but a flood. And what does that have in common? It's a way to show how strong and assertive the administration is in foreign affairs. This might show negatively on the administration. That is the only difference. If it's national security, then they have no regard for secrets, and here all of a sudden extremely guarded. It makes you wonder what they're hiding. 

BAIER: Panel, thank you. Katie, thanks for joining us. That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for more on that cold shoulder from Russia at the G-20 summit.

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