President Obama is wrong to invoke executive privilege to keep documents from the Fast and Furious gun debacle secret.
The president said the memos cannot be revealed for two reasons, both of which are weak.
First, the administration says, the records "pertain to sensitive legal activities, including ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions."
The story of how the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of 2,500 weapons is well-known. It's difficult to imagine what element of surprise or stealth remains for law enforcement to protect. The lid was blown long ago on Fast and Furious.
The second reason is completely unacceptable. The administration statement says some documents "were generated by (Justice) Department officials in the course of responding to congressional investigations or media inquiries about this matter that are generally not appropriate for disclosure."
It's one thing to invoke the argument of "ongoing investigations." It's quite another to withhold internal discussions about how to respond to questions from nosy congressmen and reporters. It makes us wonder what's so embarrassing that the president and his attorney general, Eric Holder, don't want it revealed. It opens the door to speculation that - as the old saying goes - the cover-up is worse than the crime.
We don't know of any evidence that Holder tried to cover up the indefensible actions of the ATF, but the administration certainly doesn't inspire public trust with this claim of executive privilege.
Executive privilege is always a contentious position in a country that expects its government to operate in the open. But the administration has not earned the benefit of the doubt in this matter.
That's because when questions were first asked in 2011, Holder said Fast and Furious didn't happen. Evidence from the 7,000 pages released so far shows that he was misled by underlings when he said that, but the suspicion will never go away until every last scrap of documentation is revealed.
And it must be revealed because the damage from Fast and Furious was grave. Two of the weapons ATF lost track of were found in the Arizona desert where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in 2010.
There's no doubt that congressional Republicans are partly driven by politics to have Holder held in contempt for failing to give it the records. It's more of the vicious partisan politics we've all come to expect from our leaders in Washington. But in this case, it doesn't matter what motivates the Republicans. The documents must be released.
Arizona Daily Star