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Eric Holder, Once Cited for Contempt in Fast and Furious Probe, Criticizes Barr for ‘Protecting the President’


Eric Holder, former Attorney General for then-President Barack Obama, joined the chorus of those criticizing Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday for “protecting” President Donald Trump. While Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s recently revealed letter to Barr raises serious questions about Barr’s handling of the Russia report, Holder’s opinion on the matter is itself questionable (which many were quick to point out).

But first, Holder’s tweet:

The conduct of AG Barr over the last few weeks and in the hearing today has been shown to be unacceptable. I thought he was an institutionalist, committed to both the rule of law and his role as the lawyer for the American people. I was very wrong. He is protecting the President.

Irrespective of whether or not Holder is right about this, the overwhelming number of responses to the tweet reminded Holder of a certain scandal known as “Fast and Furious.”

Recall: Back in 2012, Holder once recommended that President Obama assert executive privilege to prevent Congress’ subpoena from getting confidential Department of Justice (DOJ) documents about Operation Fast and Furious.

Operation Fast and Furious involved the ATF and others who facilitated illegal gun sales to individuals connected to Mexican drug cartels in an effort to track both parties involved in the transaction. The DOJ Inspector General reported that nearly 2,000 firearms were illegally purchased for $1.5 million. It was also reported that weapons used in the murder of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were linked to these sales.

“I am writing to request that you assert executive privilege with respect to confidential Department of Justice documents that are responsive to the subpoena issued by the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform of the United States House of Representatives on October 25, 2011,” Holder said. “The subpoena relates to the Committee’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, a law enforcement operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona to stem the illegal flow of firearms from the United States to drug cartels in Mexico.”

Holder said that he was concerned that the subpoena was overly broad and threatened to encroach on executive branch power.

“The Committee’s subpoena broadly sweeps in various groups of documents relating to both the conduct of Operation Fast and Furious and the Department’s response to congressional inquiries about that operation,” he continued, before listing three steps the DOJ took in response to prior congressional oversight. “I am very concerned that the compelled production to Congress of internal Executive Branch documents generated in the course of the deliberative process concerning its response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries would haver significant, damaging consequences.”

Holder cautioned against “substantial separation of powers concerns” and “potentially create an inbalance” between the legislative and executives branches. As a result, Holder recommenced that Obama assert executive privilege over requested documents.

“I respectfully request that you assert executive privilege over the identified documents,” he said. “This letter sets forth the basis for my legal judgment that you may properly do so.”

After that, the historical record shows, the House of Representatives voted in support of citing Holder for criminal contempt. Even 17 Democrats supported this at the time.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, more recently known as the judge in Roger Stone and Paul Manafort‘s criminal cases in Washington, D.C., eventually decided that jailing Holder wasn’t going to happen and that the contempt motion was “entirely unnecessary.” Nonetheless, per Politico at the time, Jackson “also denied Holder’s request for an indefinite stay of her prior order that the attorney general must turn over any ‘non-privileged’ documents the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed as part of an investigation into the botched gunrunning investigation.”

While a spokesman for the DOJ referred to a majority Republican effort to have Holder jailed as a “stunt,” Republicans doubled down, claiming that “broke the law in withholding subpoenaed documents.”

More than 64,000 documents related to Fast and Furious were eventually handed over to the House — on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2014. Holder resigned from his post on Sept. 25, 2014.

Some responses to Holder’s criticism of Barr merely noted that Operation Fast and Furious was a thing, while others recalled the contempt citation.

Nor was Holder’s past remark that he was “still the president’s wingman” forgotten.

Eric Holder Asserting Execu… by on Scribd

[Image via Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.