WASHINGTON – President Obama on Wednesday invoked executive privilege to withhold from a Congressional oversight committee some documents and communications among his advisers regarding the failed gun enforcement operation known as “Fast and Furious,” in which weapons purchased in the United States were allowed to cross into Mexico.

It was the first time since Mr. Obama took office that he has asserted the privilege, and it sharpened considerably the long-festering dispute between Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The panel had been threatening to find Mr. Holder in contempt for refusing to hand over some documents.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Mr. Issa that the president was claiming privilege over the documents, although he suggested that there might yet be a way to negotiate the release of some of the contested documents.

“We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious,” the Justice Department letter said. “Although we are deeply disappointed that the committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the department remains willing to work with the committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues.”

Democrats are calling the GOP-led investigation  a “political witch hunt” and  a “kangaroo court,” saying it was designed to result in a contempt citation from the start as a way to get at Mr. Obama.

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Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.