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Issa blasts Obama's '11th hour stunt' in 'Fast and Furious': 'He's creating an executive privilege that either doesn't exist or has been loosely held'

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa responds to Obama's invoking executive privilege in 'Fast and Furious' case

 

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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Sparks flying, a very heated hearing and a vote, one that went straight down the party line, a House panel approving a contempt resolution for Attorney General Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Our purpose has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt. Our purpose has always been to get the information the committee needs to complete its work that it is not only entitled to but obligated to do.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY, D-N.Y.: I am horrified that you are going forward with this contempt charge when the president of the United States has and the administration have invoked executive privilege for the documents sought by the chairman.

REP. EDOLPHUS TOWNS, D-NY: This is a mistake, a major mistake, and I really want you to know that I think that this should be discontinued.

REP. DAN BURTON, R-IND.: Why would the president claim executive privilege unless there was something very, very important that he felt should not be made known to this committee and possibly to the public?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, R-UTAH: I hope we have the guts and the perseverance to get to the bottom of this! We have nearly 2,000 weapons purposely -- purposely -- given to drug cartels. We have hundreds of dead people in Mexico! We have a dead United States Border Patrol agent! And we have a government that's withholding information so that we cannot only get to the bottom but that we can fix it and make sure that it never, ever happens again!

REP. JACKIE SPEIER, D-CALIF.: I am frightened to think what would be going on today had Agent Brian Terry not been murdered. Would we even know about Fast and Furious or Wide Receiver?

REP. TREY GOWDY, R-S.C.: This is a sad day, but it is a necessary day! The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress no matter whether you're the party in power or not in power is wrong!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: House Oversight chair Darrell Issa joins us. Nice to see you, Chairman.

ISSA: Well, thanks for having me on and thanks for covering this important hearing today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, a lot happened today. In fact, the big news today, of course, was the president asserting the executive privilege. This is an 18-month-long investigation. When did you first hear that he was going to -- or get wind of the fact that he was going to assert this?

ISSA: About 9:50 this morning, with a 10:00 o'clock markup. We received an eight-page report. Theoretically, that eight pages was entirely done after we had a meeting that went to about 6:00 o'clock the previous evening in which Attorney General Holder offered only to brief us on remaining information, and then give us documents supporting that, if we canceled our investigation or specifically considered all subpoenas as met.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, you've asked for a number of documents. He was offering 1,300 pages?

ISSA: He described it as 1,300 pages and told us that some of those pages we never asked for but he thought we should have them.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so you -- so you weren't even necessarily getting the pages that you wanted. (PHONE RINGS) That may be the attorney general...

ISSA: If it's Barack, I'll tell him we're not available.

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe the attorney general is going to answer your subpoena. All right, the 1,300 pages, though -- those aren't even necessarily the pages that you had specifically asked for. Those are pages he thought you should have and weren't really in answer to the subpoena, right?

ISSA: Well, exactly. We were asked for -- you know, to take a pig in a poke. We were asked to take some assertion that these documents would be meaningful without seeing them, without looking at them and without a log of anything they weren't giving us.

I think they knew we couldn't accept that. Brian Terry's family couldn't accept it. The American people couldn't accept it.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's your theory as to why the president invoked executive privilege, and why now? Because this has been going on for a long time.

ISSA: Well, you're exactly right. This is an 11th-hour stunt, potentially. But taking that it's serious, he's seriously trying to create an executive privilege that either doesn't exist or has been loosely held, meaning most of these documents that we've asked for clearly are within the Justice Department, they're not between the president.

So his assertion is about, for example, the ATF director sending an e- mail that we've asked for in which he says, Hey, we got to stop this gun- walking. I've read the wiretaps. This is terrible.

We have a sworn statement by -- bipartisan statement by the former ATF director that he sent it, but he doesn't have a copy of it. That wasn't directed to the president, and yet they're asserting executive privilege as to that.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't understand this. And you and I have talked many times about this, and we've been covering it for a long time. But it seems to me the questions are quite simple. Who authorized Fast and Furious? Have you ever -- have you ever asked that and you've ever gotten the answer on that?

ISSA: We've asked and we have not gotten answers.

VAN SUSTEREN: Because that's a pretty simple one, I would think, because somebody had to authorize it. The second one I'd want to know is who is the highest person in government that was aware of Fast and Furious?

ISSA: Well, that's an area where when we read the wiretaps, we think it goes to Jason Weinstein, to Grindler and to Lanny Breuer, at a minimum. Our Democratic colleagues, when they read it, say, Well, they didn't read these documents, so even though they were responsible for them, we don't see how you can feel that they knew about them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any reason to believe the White House was aware -- and by the White House, I mean anybody that works in the White House -- was aware of Fast and Furious while it was still an active operation? And secondly, are you aware of anyone -- suspicious anybody at the White House was aware of the efforts to sort of make this a very long and dragged-out investigation so far?

ISSA: Well, the first part of your question, we've never thought that this was something directed from the White House. We thought it was and is a failed strategy done at a local level for which the OCIDEF, this team comprised of many agencies, got its authorization and money through Justice, with authorization all the way to -- to Washington.

There's no logical reason that before Brian Terry was killed that this would have come to the attention of the president. But clearly, we're questioning whether afterwards, during this coverup, the false statement made on February 4th of last year and the months before they finally admitted that they had been untruthful to Congress, we do question whether or not there was communication with people, including the White House.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, the attorney general's issued a statement tonight about almost 5:00 o'clock tonight, says in part, it says, "Simply put, any claims that the Justice Department has been unresponsive to requests for information are untrue. From the beginning, Chairman Issa and certain members of the committee have made unsubstantiated allegations first, then scrambled for facts to try to justify them later. That might make for good political theater but does little to uncover the truth or address the problems associated with this operation and prior ones dating back to the previous administration."

ISSA: Well, you know, he's always wanted to talk about the previous administration and a different failed program. We've never tried to pretend that it wasn't a different failed program, and we're not happy with the Bush administration activities, either.

But in the case of Fast and Furious, where Brian Terry's guns came from, we first became aware of this when a whistleblower went to Senator Grassley. Senator Grassley asked question and was told he wouldn't get answers. We asked questions and we got denials, an actual false letter and false testimony.

So yes, there were times in which we had whistleblowers who said certain things, and all we had was a whistleblower's word. But as documents came in, in almost every case, the whistleblowers were telling the truth and Justice was shading the truth or perhaps not telling the truth.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, the contempt resolution came out of your committee today. It now goes to the floor for a vote, right?

ISSA: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you spoken to Speaker Boehner to find out when that vote will be? I mean, is he willing to put it on the floor for a vote?

ISSA: Well, before I even left the hearing room, Speaker Boehner had announced the vote would be next week. I haven't met with staff because, quite frankly, I got pretty busy, including meeting with my staff so that we could prepare for that because we've got a lot of work to do.

As you know, the president asserted in the executive order. We prepared and amended our resolution, so that will be -- that has been changed. But we want to make sure that it's accurate when we go to the floor, and if there's any further amendments, we will do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems to me that there -- in asserting the executive privilege, it's done for one of two reasons. One is, you know, a good faith believe that it's important to assert, that the facts warrant it, and it's important to preserve the sanctity of the executive branch.

The other -- the other option is something more sinister, that someone's trying to hide something, prevent something from going forward. Which is it in this instance, do you think?

ISSA: Well, I mean, there's two prior examples. In the Harriet Miers case, the president, President Bush, asserted executive privilege as to communications back and forth between his key counsels and himself. I thin that was appropriate.

In the case -- a Republican. In the case of Richard Nixon, he asserted executive privilege and that anything the president said was legal, was legal, and so on. And of course, ultimately, everything, including correspondence that went back and forth to President Nixon -- in other words, the cover-up -- was held not to be within executive privilege.

So I think we have one case in which a president did wrong and it was wrong. We have another case in which the president...

VAN SUSTEREN: So what's the motive here? Is it -- is it because it's legitimate exercise of presidential power and it warrants -- and we a difference of opinion, but it's executive privilege, or it's a cover-up and something to obstruct?

ISSA: Well, I can tell you that Eric Holder told me just last night that -- and he's said it before -- that many of these documents he was willing to have us obtain if we agreed to settle the case would be very embarrassing, but he would do it anyway. And it's one of the areas that concerns us is -- look, we're not looking to embarrass him, but just because something's embarrassing doesn't mean it's not responsive.

VAN SUSTEREN: So which is it?

ISSA: Well, look, we think the documents are embarrassing. We think that there were months of people saying, You got to quit lying, you got to come forward with the truth. You had attorneys who knew that false testimony had been made to Congress. They were officers of the court. And they did not come forward to us.

They lobbied within Justice to come out with the truth. Ten months later, when they came out with the truth, all that deliberative activity in this case is very appropriate for us to see...

VAN SUSTEREN: So is it obstruction or legitimate?

ISSA: You know, that's -- that's a tough one, Greta. And I think the court of public opinion will decide on both of our fates on that. We think we did today what we were obligated to do. We will continue with our investigation and dozens of other investigations we're obligated to do. We'd like to see this ended because the resources we're using should be going after waste, fraud and abuse, if we could bring this to a close.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we'll see what happens next week. Next week is a long time away, a lot of time. Anyway, congressman, thank you.

ISSA: Thanks, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you.