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AG Ltr to President

AG Ltr to President

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June19,2012ThePresidentTheWhiteHouseWashington,D.C.20500DearMr.President,IamwritingtorequestthatyouassertexecutiveprivilegewithrespecttoconfidentialDepartmentofJustice("Department")documentsthatareresponsivetothesubpoenaissuedbytheCommitteeonOversightandGovernmentReformoftheUnitedStatesHouseofRepresentatives("Committee")onOctober25,2011.ThesubpoenarelatestotheCommittee'sinvestigationintoOperationFastandFurious,alawenforcementoperationconductedbytheBureauofAlcohol,Tobacco,Firearms,andExplosives("ATF")andtheUnitedStatesAttorney'sOfficefortheDistrictofArizonatostemtheillegalflowoffirearmsfromtheUnitedStatestodrugcartelsinMexico("FastandFurious").TheCommitteehasscheduledameetingforJune20,2012,tovoteonaresolutionholdingmeincontemptofCongressforfailingtocomplywiththesubpoena.
I.
TheCommittee'ssubpoenabroadlysweepsinvariousgroupsofdocumentsrelatingtoboththeconductofOperationFastandFuriousandtheDepartment'sresponsetocongressionalinquiriesaboutthatoperation.InrecognitionoftheseriousnessoftheCommittee'sconcernsaboutboththeinappropriatetacticsusedinFastandFuriousandtheinaccuraciesconcerningtheuseofthosetacticsintheletterthattheDepartmentsenttoSenatorGrassleyonFebruary4,2011("February4Letter"),theDepartmenthastakenanumberofsignificantstepsinresponsetotheCommittee'soversight.First,theDepartmenthasinstitutedvariousreformstoensurethatitdoesnotrepeattheselawenforcementandoversightmistakes.Second,atmyrequesttheInspectorGeneralisinvestigatingtheconductofFastandFurious.Andthird,totheextentconsistentwithimportantExecutiveBranchconfidentialityandseparationofpowersinterestsaffectedbytheCommittee'sinvestigationintoongoingcriminalinvestigationsandprosecutions,aswellasapplicabledisclosurelaws,theDepartmenthasprovidedasignificantamountofinformationinanextraordinaryefforttoaccommodatetheCommittee'slegitimateoversightinterests,includingtestimony,transcribedinterviews,briefingsandotherstatementsbyDepartmentofficials,andalloftheDepartment'sinternaldocumentsconcerningthepreparationoftheFebruary4Letter.TheCommitteehasmadeclearthatitscontemptresolutionwillbelimitedtointernalDepartment"documentsfromafterFebruary4,2011,relatedtotheDepartment'sresponsetoCongress."LetterforEricH.Holder,Jr.,AttorneyGeneral,fromDarrellE.Issa,Chairman,CommitteeonOversightandGovernmentReform,U.S.HouseofRepresentativesat1-2(June13,2012)("Chairman'SLetter").Iamaskingyoutoassertexecutiveprivilegeoverthesedocuments.TheywerenotgeneratedinthecourseoftheconductofFastandFurious.Instead,
 
theywerecreatedaftertheinvestigativetacticsatissueinthatoperationhadterminatedandinthecourseoftheDepartment'sdeliberativeprocessconcerninghowtorespondtocongressionalandrelatedmediainquiriesintothatoperation.InviewofthesignificantconfidentialityandseparationofpowersconcernsraisedbytheCommittee'sdemandforinternaldocumentsgeneratedinresponsetotheCommittee'sinvestigation,weconsidertheDepartment'saccommodationsregardingthepreparationoftheFebruary4Lettertohavebeenextraordinary.Despitetheseaccommodations,however,theCommitteescheduledavoteonitscontemptresolution.Atthatpoint,theDepartmentofferedanadditionalaccommodationthatwouldfullyaddresstheCommittee'sremainingquestions.TheDepartmentofferedtoprovidetheCommitteewithabriefing,basedondocumentsthattheCommitteecouldretain,explaininghowtheDepartment'sunderstandingofthefactsofFastandFuriousevolvedduringthepost-February
4
period,aswellastheprocessthatledtothewithdrawaloftheFebruary4Letter.TheCommittee,however,hasnotacceptedtheDepartment'sofferandhasinsteadelectedtoproceedwithitscontemptvote.Assetforthmorefullybelow,IamveryconcernedthatthecompelledproductiontoCongressofinternalExecutiveBranchdocumentsgeneratedinthecourseofthedeliberativeprocessconcerningitsresponsetocongressionaloversightandrelatedmediainquirieswouldhavesignificant,damagingconsequences:
It
wouldinhibitthecandorofsuchExecutiveBranchdeliberationsinthefutureandsignificantlyimpairtheExecutiveBranch'sabilitytorespondindependentlyandeffectivelytocongressionaloversight.Thiswouldraisesubstantialseparationofpowersconcernsandpotentiallycreateanimbalanceintherelationshipbetweenthesetwoco-equalbranchesoftheGovernment.Consequently,astheheadoftheDepartmentofJustice,Irespectfullyrequestthatyouassertexecutiveprivilegeovertheidentifieddocuments.Thislettersetsforththebasisformylegaljudgmentthatyoumayproperlydoso.
II.
Executiveprivilegeis"fundamentaltotheoperationofGovernmentandinextricablyrootedintheseparationofpowersundertheConstitution."
UnitedStates
v.
Nixon,
418U.S.683,708(1974).
It
is"anecessarycorollaryoftheexecutivefunctionvestedinthePresidentbyArticleIIoftheConstitution."
CongressionalRequestsforConfidentialExecutiveBranchInformation,
13Op.O.L.C.153,154(1989)
("CongressionalRequestsOpinion")
(opinionofAssistantAttorneyGeneralWilliamP.Barr);
see
U.S.Const.art.II,§1,cl.1("TheexecutivePowershallbevestedinaPresidentoftheUnitedStatesofAmerica.");U.S.Const.art.II,§3(ThePresidentshall"takeCarethattheLawsbefaithfullyexecuted....").Indeed,executiveprivilege"hasbeenassertedbynumerousPresidentsfromtheearliestdaysofourNation,anditwasexplicitlyrecognizedbytheSupremeCourtin
UnitedStates
v.
Nixon."CongressionalRequestsOpinion,
13Op.O.L.C.at154.Thedocumentsatissuefitsquarelywithinthescopeofexecutiveprivilege.Inconnectionwithpriorassertionsofexecutiveprivilege,twoAttorneysGeneralhaveadvisedthePresidentthatdocumentsofthiskindarewithinthescopeofexecutiveprivilege.
See
LetterforthePresidentfromPaulD.Clement,SolicitorGeneralandActingAttorneyGeneral,
Re:AssertionofExecutivePrivilegeConcerningtheDismissalandReplacementof
us.
Attorneys
at6(June27,2007)
("US.AttorneysAssertion")
("[C]ommunicationsbetweentheDepartmentof
2
 
JusticeandtheWhiteHouseconcerning...possibleresponsestocongressionalandmediainquiriesabouttheU.S.Attorneyresignations...clearlyfallwithinthescopeofexecutiveprivilege.");
AssertionofExecutivePrivilegeRegardingWhiteHouseCounsel'sOfficeDocuments,
20Op.O.L.C.2,3(1996)
("WHCODocumentsAssertion")
(opinionofAttorneyGeneralJanetReno)(concludingthat"[e]xecutiveprivilegeapplies"to"analyticalmaterialorotherattorneywork-productpreparedbytheWhiteHouseCounsel'sOfficeinresponsetotheongoinginvestigationbytheCommittee").
It
iswellestablishedthat"[t]hedoctrineofexecutiveprivilege...encompassesExecutiveBranchdeliberativecommunications."LetterforthePresidentfromMichaelB.Mukasey,AttorneyGeneral,
Re:AssertionofExecutivePrivilegeoverCommunicationsRegardingEPA'sOzoneAirQualityStandardsandCalifornia'sGreenhouseGasWaiverRequest
at2(June19,2008)
("EPAAssertion");seealso,e.g.,
Us.
AttorneysAssertion
at2;
AssertionofExecutivePrivilegewithRespectToClemencyDecision,
23Op.O.L.C.1,1-2
(1999)("ClemencyAssertion")
(opinionofAttorneyGeneralJanetReno).ThethreatofcompelleddisclosureofconfidentialExecutiveBranchdeliberativematerialcandiscouragerobustandcandiddeliberations,for"[h]umanexperienceteachesthatthosewhoexpectpublicdisseminationoftheirremarksmaywelltempercandorwithaconcernforappearancesandfortheirownintereststothedetrimentofthedecisionmakingprocess."
Nixon,
418U.S.at705.Thus,PresidentshaverepeatedlyassertedexecutiveprivilegetoprotectconfidentialExecutiveBranchdeliberativematerialsfromcongressionalsubpoena.
See,e.g.,EPAAssertion
at2-3;LetterforthePresidentfromMichaelB.Mukasey,AttorneyGeneral,
Re:AssertionofExecutivePrivilegeConcerningtheSpecialCounsel'sInterviewsoftheVicePresidentandSeniorWhiteHouseStaffat
2(July15,2008)
("SpecialCounselAssertion");
LetterforthePresidentfromJohnAshcroft,AttorneyGeneral,
Re:AssertionofExecutivePrivilegewithRespecttoProsecutorialDocuments
at2(Dec.10,2001)
("ProsecutorialDocumentsAssertion");ClemencyAssertion,
23Op.O.L.C.at1-4;
AssertionofExecutivePrivilegeinResponsetoaCongressionalSubpoena.S
Op.O.L.C.27,29-31(1981)("1981
Assertion")
(opinionofAttorneyGeneralWilliamFrenchSmith).BecausethedocumentsatissueweregeneratedinthecourseofthedeliberativeprocessconcerningtheDepartment'sresponsestocongressionalandrelatedmediainquiriesintoFastandFurious,theneedtomaintaintheirconfidentialityisheightened.Compelleddisclosureofsuchmaterial,regardlessofwhetheragivendocumentcontainsdeliberativecontent,wouldraise"significantseparationofpowersconcerns,"
WHCODocumentsAssertion,
20Op.O.L.C.at3,by'''significantlyimpair[ing]'"theExecutiveBranch'sabilitytorespondindependentlyandeffectivelytomattersundercongressionalreview.
us.
AttorneysAssertion
at6("theabilityoftheOfficeoftheCounseltothePresidenttoassistthePresidentinrespondingto[congressionalandrelatedmedia]investigations'wouldbesignificantlyimpaired'ifacongressionalcommitteecouldreview'confidentialdocumentspreparedinordertoassistthePresidentandhisstaffinrespondingtoaninvestigationbythecommitteeseekingthedocuments"')(quoting
WHCODocumentsAssertion,
20Op.O.L.C.at3)(alterationsomitted).
SeegenerallyTheConstitutionalSeparationofPowersBetweenthePresidentandCongress,
20Op.O.L.C.124,126-28,133-35(1996)(explainingthat,underSupremeCourtcaselaw,congressionalactionthatinterfereswiththefunctioningoftheExecutiveBranch,including"attemptstodictatetheprocessesofexecutivedeliberation,"canviolategeneralseparationofpowersprinciples);
Nixon
v.
AdministratorofGeneralServices,
433U.S.425,443(1977)(congressionalenactmentthat3

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