On Wednesday, President Obama invoked "executive privilege" in the "Fast & Furious" gun walking scandal. Richard Nixon did something similar during the Watergate scandal, and Obama, also defending his Attorney General, runs a similar risk.
The typical partisan argument about whether it is right or wrong to invoke "executive privilege" is "He did it too!" Here are some examples:
1974 - President Richard Nixon invoked "executive privilege" to prevent documents related to the failed break-in of DNC headquarters at the Watergate being released to Congress.
End result: The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Nixon had no executive privilege, and the Watergate "Seven," five Watergate burglars, and numerous others served prison time and paid large fines. Nixon resigned in disgrace.
1998 - President Bill Clinton invoked "executive privilege" to prevent documents related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal from being released to Congress.
End result: A federal judge ruled that "executive privilege" did not apply. President Clinton was damaged, but not impeached. He lost his law license.
2001 - President George W. Bush first invoked "executive privilege" to prevent the release of documents related to Clinton-era Justice Department investigations.
End result: Privilege was upheld.
The "Fast & Furious" scandal is most similar to the Bush White House counsel's invoking "executive privilege" in 2007 regarding the congressional investigation (by the same House committee, led by California Democrat Henry Waxman) into the 2004 "friendly fire" death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.
When Pat Tillman died, someone in the Bush White House started rumors that he died as a hero fighting the Taliban, a PR ploy similar to the false tales spread about the capture of PFC Jessica Lynch in Iraq, and more recent foreign policy "leaks" from the Obama White House. Pat was shot in Afghanistan by one or more of his fellow Rangers in an inexplicable incident of "friendly fire." The lies told to Tillman's family and the public were wrong at the time, wrong in 2007, and they remain wrong today. Jon Krakaeur wrote movingly about the tragedy in his 2009 book Where Men Win Glory. However, President Bush was never involved in the Pat Tillman investigation, nor did he directly invoke "executive privilege." The truth has been largely revealed, though the man who is believed to have shot Tillman has not been prosecuted.
The "Fast & Furious" investigation was catalyzed on December 14, 2010, when U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a shootout with Mexican cartel members in a remote Arizona canyon. The bullet that killed Terry came from a gun that was part of the multi-agency government operation called "Fast & Furious." In addition to Terry, hundreds of U.S. and Mexican citizens have been killed by cartel members wielding one of the more than 2,000 weapons paid for by government funds and sent to Mexico during the 2009-2011 "Fast & Furious" operation.
Watergate is both similar and different. Two years after the Watergate break-in, Nixon was forced to resign because he went to great lengths to cover up how his campaign employees tried and failed to bug DNC headquarters. The burglars were employed by his Attorney General John Mitchell in his role as re-election campaign chair. Mitchell should have fired the Watergate ringleaders when they were arrested, but he had authorized and paid for the break-in and chose to embroil Nixon in the cover-up. Nixon should have fired Mitchell once the facts were known and told the truth; he failed to do so.
Fast-forward to more recent times. Brian Terry died in December 2010, fatally wounded by a gun that was purchased by an ATF-semi-supervised "Fast & Furious" gun runner in January 2010, with money the FBI gave him in November 2009. None of those events could have been authorized by Mike Mukasey, the last Attorney General under George W. Bush; both left office January 20, 2009.
"Fast & Furious" is all about Eric Holder, who was Attorney General during all three of the Terry-related events, and who has denied knowledge just as Nixon's campaign chair and Attorney General John Mitchell did about Watergate from 1972 to the end of his life.
Eric Holder really could be Obama's version of John Mitchell, who went from war hero and "Top Cop" to felon in disgrace.