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- List shows documents on wide-ranging subject matter being withheld.
- Emails between Attorney General Eric Holder and his wife Sharon Malone, and his mother, are withheld under executive privilege.
- Also withheld are emails between Obama administration spokesmen regarding news articles.
For the first time, the Department of Justice has provided a detailed description of 15,662 Fast and Furious-related documents it is withholding from Congress, the public and the press under executive privilege exerted by President Obama.
The description comes in the form of a so-called Vaughn index ordered by a federal court in a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch. The Justice Department waited to provide the index, due yesterday, until 8:34 p.m.
The number of withheld documents is so extensive, that the list describing them is 1,323 pages long.
The Vaughn index identifies each record held and explains why the Justice Department believes the material should be withheld from public disclosure.
According to Judicial Watch,
“The document details Attorney General Holder’s personal involvement in managing the Justice Department’s strategy on media and Congressional investigations into the Fast and Furious scandal. Notably, the document discloses that emails between Attorney General Holder and his wife Sharon Malone – and his mother – are being withheld under claims of executive privilege and the deliberative process privilege.”
That includes approximately 30 emails between Attorney General Eric Holder and his wife.
“There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a written statement. “Americans will be astonished that Obama asserted executive privilege over Eric Holder’s emails to his wife about Fast and Furious.”
Among the withheld communications is a March 8, 2011 email from a Mexico-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) official less than one week after federal agent John Dodson blew the whistle on Fast and Furious in an interview with me for CBS News. The email is described as “discussing response to [Mexico].”
Another withheld email sent in the same time period is from then-White House official Kevin O’Reilly. Dated March 10, 2011, it was sent to more than a dozen federal officials and is described as, “discussing draft press statement.”
More withheld emails “forwarding and discussing news items” have Attorney General Holder’s name on them. One series of such exchanges is dated July 26, 2011, the same day I reported the revelation that ATF had shared information about Fast and Furious with the White House.
The Vaughn index raises questions about why some of the material is being withheld at all. For example, many of the emails are regarding press articles, television reports and other news items. Some of them are between then-Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler and White House operative Eric Schulz. In some instances, the given description reads “email forwarding news items.” Why an email between two government spokesmen that forwards public news reports would be withheld under presidential executive privilege is not fully explained.
Other withheld documents are concerning Freedom of Information (FOI) requests I made in May of 2011. It’s unclear as to why the president would exert executive privilege to keep from turning over documents discussing “which office will respond” to my FOI requests. The Justice Department never properly responded to my requests.
Also withheld are communications surrounding the infamous Justice Department letter to Congress in 2011 which erroneously claimed there had been no “gunwalking” in Fast and Furious or any other case. Republicans in Congress subpoenaed the materials in hopes of pinpointing who knew, how high up, that the letter to Congress contained incorrect information. The Justice Department later retracted the letter, long after overwhelming proof of the gunwalking surfaced.
Another withheld email between two officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona that oversaw the Fast and Furious case is titled, “sad, sickening draft for your review” and is said to involve personnel matters.
Other emails being kept secret are dated May 4, 2011 from Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer to other officials in the Justice Department about a news article revealing Breuer authorized the wiretap in Fast and Furious. The justification for the wiretap included a detailed narrative on the case, implying Breuer would have known that the gunwalking tactic was being used, contrary to his and the Justice Department’s claims. It’s unclear what news article is discussed in the withheld emails, but I reported this story for CBS News on that same date.
Congress held Holder in contempt on June 28, 2012 when he failed to turn over subpoenaed records. It is the first time a sitting Attorney General has been held in contempt. President Obama asserted executive privilege to prevent Congress from obtaining the material. Judicial Watch sued for the documents a short time later. The House of Representatives has an ongoing federal lawsuit in its attempt to obtain the same materials.