Fast and Furious – All transcripts via email from The White House
Ed Henry: Transparency is important. So if the President believes in transparency —
MR. EARNEST: He does.
Ed Henry — why did he invoke executive privilege a few weeks ago on the Fast and Furious investigation?
MR. EARNEST: We can have a debate about transparency when it comes to Fast and Furious, too, an investigation that Republicans have acknowledged is politically motivated. The point is we can have a transparency debate. We can also have a debate about the proper tax policies in this country. And that’s one that we’re happy to engage with the Romney campaign on.
And here’s the other thing — and this is I think a point that’s important not to get lost — is this has prompted a lot of questions from you and Dan and from other people to the campaign. The fact is Governor Romney has it within his capacity to put all these questions to rest before the end of the day today, which is he can just release the tax returns. He can do what every other major party candidate for President has done.
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Colorado Springs, CO, 6/29/12
Q What’s next for Eric Holder?
MR. CARNEY: He’s going to continue his excellent work as Attorney General of the United States.
Q Can you rule out prosecution?
MR. CARNEY: It is an established principle, dating back to the administration of President Ronald Reagan, that the Justice Department does not pursue prosecution in a contempt case when the President has asserted executive privilege. The assertion of executive privilege makes the contempt matter moot, if you will. I mean, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m probably not using quite the precise language. But it is my understanding, and I would refer you to the Justice Department, that dating back to the administration of President Reagan that prosecutions will not take place under this — in this circumstance.
And let’s just be clear, as I know all of you recognize, that this is pure politics — pure politics. Again, in some ways, remarkably, the chairman of the committee involved here has asserted that he has no evidence that the Attorney General knew of operation Fast and Furious or did anything but take the right action when he learned of it. No evidence. So if you have no evidence, as he’s stated now about the White House and the Attorney General, what else could this be than politics?
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/27/12
Norah O’Donnell: The National Rifle Association is urging members of Congress to vote to hold the Attorney General in contempt because they say Fast and Furious is part of the Obama administration’s anti-gun agenda. Do you have response to that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate about the outcome of a vote that we still hope doesn’t happen because it should not — it’s politics. And I think that, in many ways, your question reflects the politics of this.
I would only say broadly that the idea behind that thinking suggests that there was some grand plan behind the Fast and Furious program when, in fact, everyone knows the President did not know about this tactic until he heard about it through the media; the Attorney General did not know about it. The tactic itself was employed by the previous administration in a different operation. This was a field office tactic that was flawed. And when the Attorney General learned about it, he took action to ensure that it was no longer used, and he directed the Inspector General at the Department of Justice to investigate.
So the premise behind the assertion falls apart upon even the barest of inquiry.
Q You’ve said that this is part of the Republicans’ agenda to score some political points, this contempt vote against the Attorney General. Does the President agree with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi that this contempt vote is an effort to distract the Attorney General and the Justice Department on voting rights issues?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t really speculate about motivations except to point you to the words of observers as well as the leading House Republican that this is about politics. What underlies the politics —
Q What are the politics? I mean, what —
MR. CARNEY: I think you should ask those who are engaging in those politics. What we know is that this administration has been very cooperative with the legitimate oversight interest of Congress, broadly speaking, and in regard to this matter. The Department of Justice provided an enormous number of documents; provided hours and hours of testimony by the Attorney General and other Justice Department officials; and twice now has made an effort to accommodate the interest of the chairman and leaders in the Republican party on this matter. Unfortunately, they have shown very little interest in reaching a resolution. Instead, they’ve chosen a path of political confrontation and theatre — which, I think, those of us who have been around for a while here recognize this for what it is.
Q What is it?
MR. CARNEY: Politics. It has — as I said before —
Q I mean, this is the first time an attorney general is going to be held in contempt —
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see.
Q — of Congress over this. And the most you’ll say is to score political points?
MR. CARNEY: That’s how preposterous it is. Because it’s not about Fast and Furious. The operation itself, all the documentation relating to the operation itself prior to February 4th of last year has been provided. The administration has endeavored to accommodate the committee and Republican leaders in its request for further information.
The assertion of privilege here has to do with the absolutely necessary action that any President, any head of the executive branch must take in order to preserve the capacity of the executive branch to engage in internal deliberations, both now and in the future, for every administration going forward, for every President of either party, of some party in the future.
Q Is the President concerned at all about the precedent this is going to set having his Attorney General held in contempt? Has he called the Speaker of the House and asked him to reconsider? Has he been personally engaged at all?
MR. CARNEY: I think the Speaker of the House has made his position pretty clear on this, and it’s highly political in nature. I haven’t had the conversation about this with the President in the way that you framed it. I think he —
Q I mean, is he standing up for his Attorney General?
MR. CARNEY: He has absolute confidence in his Attorney General. And what you’re hearing from me are the views of the President and the White House, the administration, that this is political theatre. It is an unnecessary distraction from the work that Congress should be doing for the American people on the economy, on jobs. And I think many Americans — most Americans will view it that way.
Q Okay, sorry, one final question on health care. What if the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate but allows protections for preexisting — or allows the protection for those who have preexisting conditions? What then?
MR. CARNEY: Norah, I cannot speculate on all the various permutations that have been put forward by really smart people in the press and in the health care field and the legal field. I think we just have to wait for the decision and move forward after that.
Q Fast and Furious — is the contempt vote worth a stand on principle?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I understand the question.
Q Well, last week you said that the reason that all of these documents in question were not being turned over was on principle, not because there was any sensitive material that was being released. So the fact is that now you most likely will have this contempt vote. Was it worth it? Was the stand on principle —
MR. CARNEY: Well, was it worth it is taking a position beyond — into the future that will have to be evaluated in the future. It’s absolutely worth the assertion of a privilege that’s necessary for any President of any party to preside over the executive branch and allow for the executive branch to have the kind of internal deliberations that it needs to have as it responds to congressional inquiries or media inquiries.
The cooperation that has been extended to Congress on this matter is extensive. Everything about the operation itself — who planned it, how the tactic was employed and why — all of that has been provided in full to the committee. And again, I would point you to the statements of the chairman of the committee who said over the weekend that there is no evidence — he has — after all this, he has what we made clear at the beginning, no evidence — because there is there no evidence — of White House involvement in this.
This was a field tactic that was a bad idea, and everyone recognizes that it was a flawed tactic, beginning with the Attorney General and the President. The Attorney General, when he learned about it, put an end to it — its employment, its use — and instructed the Inspector General of the Department of Justice to investigate it.
And again, we have endeavored to cooperate with the legitimate oversight interests of Congress and will continue to do so. But this is — as a leading House Republican has described it, it is politics. And it is not what the Congress should be up to right now. We know that we have challenges still. We have economic challenges that need to be addressed. Congress needs to finish work on the transportation bill. It needs to take action to make sure that student loans — student loan rates don’t double in a few days. It needs to — it has the capacity to act very quickly on measures the President has put forward that would put teachers back in the classroom or even more construction workers on the job; would give homeowners across the country the ability to refinance their home at these historically low rates. These are things that the American people care about.
The actions taken for political reasons by members of the House that win them spots on cable talk shows do not particularly interest, I think, the American people. And I think the highly political nature of this has been in evidence just by the actions and rhetoric that you’ve seen from Congress — from Republicans in Congress on this.
Q Jay, is there anything that the White House is doing now in these final hours to try to head off this vote?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you saw, it was reported, that several senior White House staff members as well as staff from the Department of Justice met with committee staff to try to resolve this. There was an opportunity to resolve this, and I think it was rejected for political reasons.
Q So is there anything else that’s being done that can be done?
MR. CARNEY: There remains hope that Republicans will change their mind, will reverse their decision — their strategic decision to try to score political points. You remain hopeful that common sense prevails here, although you do have to look at the beginning of the year when Republicans announced that one of their chief legislative and strategic priorities was to investigate the administration and damage the President politically. Again, that is not the kind of use of congressional time and authority that most Americans would support or endorse. They’d rather have their leaders in Washington focus on the issues that matter most to them — like economic growth and job creation.
Jay, on Fast and Furious, I was struck by what you told Norah that you wouldn’t comment on something that may not happen and you seemed to kind of indicate that to Dan as well, that you’re still hopeful, in your words, that they’ll find the right —
MR. CARNEY: Congenital optimist.
Q Congenital optimist. And I don’t want to selectively listen to that, but — (laughter) — heard in that a hope that something could be worked out. But in answer to Dan’s question, you didn’t say whether or not — okay, there were meetings yesterday, but are there meetings going on today or phone calls?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any meetings to read out to you. The fact that the meeting that was held yesterday has been reported on was not because we let you know in advance it was happening. We’re trying to — that reflected our good-faith effort to try to accommodate the committee and leaders on this matter to avoid what is a wholly unnecessary vote that is scheduled for tomorrow.
I don’t have any meetings — new meetings to preview for you or read out to you. But I think —
Q Well, wouldn’t it be better if you can today to avoid it, whether it’s the President —
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the suggestion that we haven’t been doing everything we can is ridiculous given that the Attorney General asked for a meeting with the chairman, and got one, in an effort to resolve this; senior White House officials as well as Justice Department officials met with committee staffers yesterday in an effort to resolve this; and at the time — as you’ll recall, last Tuesday the Department of Justice made an offer of accommodation. At the time, Republicans rejected the offer because they claimed to be uncomfortable making a deal without seeing the documents that Justice Department officials suggested they could be shown.
In response, yesterday we in the administration, Justice and White House reached out and showed them a representative sample of the documents that they sought so they could see firsthand the types of communications in contention.
This offer would result in the committee getting unprecedented access to documents, showing how the Department responded to the committee’s inquiry and would dispel any notion of an intent to mislead Congress. These documents are all after the fact and do not pertain to who designed, approved, or employed the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious or Operation Wide Receiver, or any of the other operations from the Bush administration.
This was a good-faith effort to try to reach an accommodation while still protecting the institutional prerogatives of the executive branch, often championed by these same Republicans criticizing us now. Unfortunately, Republicans have opted, as I said, for political theater rather than conducting legitimate, congressional oversight.
So the effort has been made on a number of occasions. It’s consistent with an effort to try to be responsive and cooperative to legitimate oversight interests throughout this episode. And hopefully — one can hope that Republicans will at the last minute change their mind about deciding to try to score political points out of this. There’s always room for hope.
Q On your point about after the fact documents, you just said a couple of times before as well as last Thursday that — in a briefing that all of the documents, you said, every page related to the operation itself, not after the fact, has been turned over to Congress. After you made that statement Thursday, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley came out and said, no, that they’re aware of a lot of other documents related to the operation itself that have not been turned over by the Justice Department. So you’re contradicting that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And I’m saying that the assertion of privilege clearly begins with the period after February 4th, which is when the letter —
Q He’s not talking about executive privilege. He’s saying on the operation itself he’s asked for other documents, and the Justice Department has not turned them over.
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department for details on what the 7,600 pages of documents that have been turned over. But it is simply a matter of chronological observational fact that documents created prior to that time that had to do with the actual operation — who designed it, who approved it, how it was employed in both Operation Fast and Furious and in Operation Wide Receiver — had been provided because they predated that period.
The assertion of privilege is only on documents post-February 4th, and those documents have to do with the internal deliberations within the administration over how to appropriately respond to congressional and media inquiries. And those are deliberations that need to be privileged and protected because of the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution. And that is a principle that has been asserted by administrations going back 30 years.
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Atlanta, GA, 6/26/12
Q Jay, another thing that’s going to happen on Thursday is supposedly the contempt vote in the House on AG Holder. Is there any attempt by the White House to try to avoid that vote or is there any —
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, the Department of Justice is engaged in an effort to try to resolve this. And if the Republicans decide not to have this be a purely political issue, we think that this could very easily be resolved. But it has not been resolved yet, and I think that points to the obvious political nature of this effort by House Republicans.
I can go over again the enormous number of documents that have provided, the hour after hour after hour of testimony provided by the Attorney General and other officials, the fact that the assertion of privilege begins after the letter sent on February 4th to Congress, demonstrating that the assertion has to do with the absolutely necessary internal deliberations within an administration over how to best respond to a congressional inquiry and media inquiries, and not to the Operation Fast and Furious itself.
The chairman of the committee himself said the other day, Sunday, that there’s no evidence of White House involvement in any attempt to “cover up” the Fast and Furious operation, or any involvement at all in the Fast and Furious operation. Unfortunately, to quote a leading House Republican, this is about politics. And it’s a distraction.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/21/12
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask about Fast and Furious and the move by the House panel to cite the Attorney General for contempt. Historically, in these standoffs, there’s some arrangement reached between the White House and Congress to prevent a potential court fight that could hurt either side. Can you tell us if there’s any such effort underway right now between the White House and Republicans on the Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that we certainly would like to resolve this if there is a good-faith desire to resolve it on the part of House Republicans.
I think it’s worth taking a step back. At the beginning of this year, Republicans announced that one of their chief legislative and strategic priorities was to investigate the administration and damage the President politically. We are nine days away from the expiration of federal transportation funding, which guarantees jobs for almost a million construction workers because Congress has not passed a transportation bill. We are 10 days away from student loan rates doubling, potentially impacting over 7.4 million borrowers. Yet, instead of creating jobs or helping the middle class, congressional Republicans are focused on this politically motivated, taxpayer-funded, election-year fishing expedition.
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the previous administration, and it was this administration’s Attorney General who ended it. In fact, the Justice Department has spent the past 14 months accommodating congressional investigators, including producing 7,600 pages of documents and testifying at 11 congressional hearings. Yet, Republicans insist on moving forward with an effort that Republicans and objective legal experts have noted is purely political.
Given the economic challenges facing the country, we believe House Republicans should instead be engaged in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, rather than political theater.
Q So you think it’s political theater. But is there something happening behind the scenes? Do you think there is a good-faith effort that can be had here to resolve this?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the Attorney General requested a meeting with the chairman of the committee and, while I would refer you to the Department of Justice for more details, made an effort to reach a resolution on this matter. And it is certainly in our — we believe worth the effort of trying to find a solution. But we have to have a willingness on the other side to work with us to find that solution.
It is important for the public to know — the public, by and large, is not particularly aware of this matter — that every document related to the Fast and Furious operation has long since been provided to congressional investigators. And as I noted before, this is an operation and a tactic that was generated in the field during the previous administration that, when it was discovered by the Attorney General, when he became aware of it, he ended it in this administration. He referred it to the Inspector General for investigation. It has been recognized by the Attorney General and others in this administration, including the President, as a flawed tactic that needed to be ended and investigated, and this administration has done that.
What this is about, after all this time and all these documents and all the testimony, is an attempt to score political points. I think it’s a — speaking of flaws — a flawed attempt, because it is this approach I think that explains at least in part why this Congress has the lowest public approval ratings of any in memory, if not history. So that is our view of the matter.
Q Last question. Can you clarify or elaborate on what you mean by every document has been provided when the President has asserted privilege on some documents?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. The issue here is about after-the-fact, internal documents that have to do with the executive branch’s ability to operate appropriately and independently in response to congressional investigations and media inquiries. Everything that has been — every piece of documentation that relates to the operation itself — if the interest here is in the operation — how it came about, its origination, how it was approved, why such a flawed tactic was employed, that has been provided to congressional investigators.
The assertion of privilege has to do with the protection of the executive branch’s capacity, enshrined in the Constitution in the separation of powers, to deliberate independently and respond appropriately to congressional investigators’ requests and to media inquiries.
I would note also that, as I said, the Attorney General referred this manner, when he learned of it and put a stop to it, to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has access to all the documents at issue here, and is investigating at the Attorney General’s request….
Q The documents being blocked through executive privilege, are any of them to or from individuals in the White House? Or are they all internal DOJ documents?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a way to characterize the documents in question here. I can tell you that long ago, the administration provided documentation about specific questions regarding officials at the WhiteHouse and the national security staff. That was a long time ago, which speaks to — it was last fall — speaks to how prolonged this political investigation has been ongoing.
The point I made earlier is that this is an assertion based on the absolute need for this President, as the steward of the executive branch — not just for his administration but for every administration going forward — to retain the separation of powers, to protect the capacity of the executive branch to deliberate on these matters, and to work independently and appropriately in response to these kinds of inquiries.
The issue here has been the operation known as Fast and Furious, and that operation is being thoroughly investigated by the Inspector General, who has access to all these documents, including the ones that you’re asking about. And when it comes to the operation itself, everything has been provided to congressional investigators. And that is really the issue, isn’t it? It is, how did this operation come about? And it originated in a field office during the previous administration. It was ended under this administration, by this Attorney General.
Q The operation began in fall 2009. The operation Fast and Furious began —
MR. CARNEY: The tactic began in the previous administration.
Q Okay, but the operation — you keep saying —
MR. CARNEY: Okay. The tactic began in the previous administration, and it was ended under this one when this Attorney General discovered it and believed it was a flawed tactic. He then referred it to the Inspector General.
Q The documents that the President is asserting executive privilege and not disclosing — you don’t know or you’re not going to say whether any of them are to or from anybody in the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to characterize documents related to this except to say that, on the specific matter of White House — anybody in the White House — and this refers, I think — and you know if you cover this, and I know some folks here have — you know because these documents were provided and are out there and were provided back in the fall — they relate to anybody in the White House knowing about the so-called Fast and Furious operation. Any document related to the White House, anybody at the White House knowing about the Fast and Furious operation was provided — at the time was provided back in the fall.
Q In early 2011, the Justice Department wrote a letter to Congress in which they said something that was not true.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Right? They said that ATF had nothing to do with guns going over into Mexico. That wasn’t true, and it took them until December 2011 to take that back. Is there not a legitimate investigative and oversight responsibility to find out what the Department of Justice knew when they were giving false information to Congress?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I think that matter has been thoroughly discussed in congressional testimony, including nine appearances by the Attorney General, including the 7,600 —
Q — after the false statement?
MR. CARNEY: — documents that have been provided. The issue — I would refer you to a leading member of Congress in the Republican Party who, himself, called this politics. I think most people in this room understand that this is about politics. It is not about an effort to divine the truth in a serious matter — which is why the tactic used in this operation was used, how it originated, and the consequences of using it.
This administration takes very seriously, the Attorney General, as demonstrated by the actions he took, takes it very seriously. And he has demonstrated his willingness to try to reach a resolution to this matter with congressional investigators. To this point, the interest of House Republicans has been to use this politically, as they previewed for the world in the beginning of this year when they made clear that that was one of their chief goals of the year.
Q Jay, just one last question. The family of Brian Terry, the slain Border Patrol agent at whose murder scene at least two of these guns were found, they disagree with your characterization about these investigations. They say that the Attorney General’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth. That’s a statement from the Terry family lawyer.
MR. CARNEY: Look, we absolutely agree with the need to find out the truth about why Fast and Furious happened, why the tactic that, again, was employed in the previous administration in different operations and was stopped by this Attorney General — why it came about. And that’s why the Attorney General referred it to the Inspector General. That is why we have provided Congress every document that pertains to the operation itself that is at issue here when you talk about the family that you referred to. And —
Q The Terry family.
MR. CARNEY: The Terry family. And that is separate from an attempt by members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, to try to score political points — as Senator Grassley referred to his desire for a “political scalp” — that is separate from trying to find out the truth about what happened in this operation, which this administration has been pursuing since the Attorney General discovered it.
Let me move around a little bit. Steve, and then Norah. Yes.
Q Can you say categorically that there is no — there’s been no cover-up?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q There’s nothing being covered up by the Justice Department, by the White House, as far as your involvement in —
MR. CARNEY: Again, the Attorney General —
Q — not in the initial thing, but in the —
MR. CARNEY: The Attorney General referred this matter to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has full access to all documents we are discussing right now — full access. And he is investigating this matter. Congress has been provided an enormous number of documents — 7,600 pages. It has been provided access to the Attorney General on eight occasions, as well as other Justice Department officials and relevant officials to this matter. And this has gone on for months and months and months.
The assertion of privilege has to do with the absolute necessity of retaining the executive branch’s independence enshrined in the Constitution in the separation of powers, to allow it to appropriately and independently respond to — deliberate and respond to these kinds of inquiries. That is an assertion that has been made by administrations of both parties dating back 30 years. And that is the matter — that is what the issue is here.
Again, the Attorney General of this administration ended this practice. He referred it to the Inspector General. The Inspector General has been investigating since that time, and has access to all these documents. …
Q Since we were talking about transparency on Fast and Furious, a quick one on Bryson, Secretary Bryson stepping down. He’s now — you’ve added an event with the President and Secretary Bryson. Why is that not open to the entire media and to television cameras? We haven’t seen him since the hit-and-run incidents. Maybe people want to ask a question. Maybe we want to see how healthy he is. Why is it not open to cameras?
MR. CARNEY: Secretary Bryson submitted his resignation letter; the President accepted it. It is a matter — in terms of his medical condition, I would simply refer you to his letter of resignation and refer you then to him and to the Commerce Department for further questions about that. This is a situation where —
Q Well, we’d like to —
MR. CARNEY: — the President is meeting with Secretary Bryson to thank him for his service, to thank him for the months he spent as Commerce Secretary and to commend him for his lifetime of service in the public and private sector.
Q You repeatedly, on Fast and Furious, kept saying that the Attorney General deserved credit for ending the gunrunning operation, but you seem to be leaving out the fact that Agent Terry was killed, and not —
MR. CARNEY: Not at all, Ed. That’s an insult.
Q No, but you’re not mentioning — does he not deserve — the Attorney General — you’re giving him credit for ending the operation. Does he not deserve some blame for the fact that this gunrunning operation resulted in a federal agent being killed on his watch?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Attorney General made clear and has made clear on numerous occasions, including the eight times he has testified on Capitol Hill with regard to this matter, that when he learned about it, took this matter exceptionally seriously. That is why he ended it, and that is why he referred it to the Inspector General for investigation.
This is a tactic that was employed in operations in the prior administration — during the prior administration. It was a field-driven tactic. It was not something that was generated out of Washington. When it was discovered by the Attorney General he put an end to it, and he launched — or requested an investigation into it. I think that demonstrates the seriousness with which he regards it.
Q You’ve also given the Attorney General credit here in this briefing for turning over — I think you at one point said every page to Congress — 7,600 pages. But my understanding is the Inspector General at the Justice Department has gotten tens of thousands of pages. I think the number is something 70,000 — 80,000 pages. So how can you say every page has been turned over if Congress has gotten about 10 percent of it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re engaging in a little selective listening.
Q Well, you said every page —
MR. CARNEY: What I did say is every page related to the Fast and Furious operation. And that is what is at issue here — how did this operation come about, how did this tactic begin to be used — a flawed tactic, which everyone recognizes — including the Attorney General, the President of the United States, congressional leaders of both parties was a flawed tactic and a mistake. And that’s why this Attorney General referred this matter to the IG for investigation.
What is being — the documents over which privilege is being asserted are internal executive branch documents that have to do with response to congressional inquiries, response to media inquiries. Those kinds of deliberations have been protected under privilege as a matter of the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution by administrations of both parties dating back 30 years.
Q How many pages is the —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a page count for you, Ed.
Q Well, why not?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t.
Q I mean, you have given us no information about what is covered by what the President is claiming executive privilege on beyond the broad protecting advisors advice —
MR. CARNEY: As you, I think perhaps more than others, given the interest in this at your network, knows the administration, principally the Department of Justice, has cooperated extensively with congressional investigators, provided extensive documentation. The administration has even provided documents related to an interest in whether or not people in the White House knew of this operation at the time —
Q But why is there not a piece of paper —
MR. CARNEY: — and provided that —
Q How many pages —
MR. CARNEY: — let me finish, please, Ed — and provided that last fall. And there wasn’t a lot of interest in it because it disappointed those who were trying to make politics out of this.
And here is the central fact of this matter: This many months into it, this many months where House Republican leaders have been focused on this rather than helping the economy grow or helping it create jobs, is that there is no evidence of anything beyond what the Attorney General has said about this matter. And our level of cooperation has been extensive.
Q But when you say, “go back to last fall,” the President’s executive privilege claim only came in yesterday. So why are we getting no information —
MR. CARNEY: Because we made every —
Q — and how broad is the scope? I mean, what does it cover?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I can attempt to get more details for you, in terms of what it covers. I don’t have page numbers for you. What I can tell you is that the assertion of privilege came at the time when it became clear that there was no intention to resolve this matter, at least to that point, in a good-faith effort by House Republican leaders; that they were committed to their previously publicly announced intention to hold a contempt vote — a highly political gesture, a completely partisan vote; and when efforts to resolve this matter otherwise were exhausted, in order to provide the absolutely necessary stewardship to the executive branch that this President must provide on behalf of his administration and every future administration, this action was taken.
Q Jay, on this question of how far the privilege goes, traditionally, privileges involve either the interactions with the White House and the White House staff, or national security. In this case, it seems to go beyond that. Is it a general thought in the White House that executive privilege — is it applied to all the executive branch, even in the —
MR. CARNEY: Well, Steve, I’m not the counsel, but I think that you need to do a little research. The truth is our assertion is consistent with the positions taken by prior administrations in disputes with Congress that date back to the Washington administration in 1792. The legal analysis is blessed by the career DOJ staff, who have advised both Democratic and Republican administrations on congressional executive relations. And as both historical practice and judicial decisions confirm, the fact that documents reside within an agency rather than in the White House is irrelevant to whether they are privileged.
There are at least five examples we can provide to you from recent history where that is demonstrated.
Chris and then Dan.
Q Jay, in 2007 President Obama criticized former President Bush for asserting executive privilege, for not handing over documents related to the firings of the nine U.S. attorneys. Does he not run the risk of looking hypocritical by criticizing the former President and now essentially evoking the same action?
MR. CARNEY: No, because this President, again, is — after making, through his Department of Justice, an extraordinary effort to cooperate with Congress on this matter of providing thousands of pages of documents, having the Attorney General testify eight times — asserting a privilege that retains the capacity of the executive branch now and in the future to operate independently, as enshrined in the Constitution.
I would note that this is the first time President Obama has asserted the privilege. But as you know, previous Presidents of both parties have done so repeatedly. According to CRS, executive privilege has been asserted 24 times since 1981. President George W. Bush asserted it six times. President Clinton, 14 times. President George H.W. Bush asserted it once. And President Reagan, three times. In fact, President Obama has gone longer without asserting the privilege than any President in the last three decades, which is consistent with the statement that you quoted.
Bottom line is, after a level of cooperation that I think demonstrates this administration’s absolute interest in finding out the truth about the Fast and Furious operation, and why that flawed tactic was used, its origins and its implementation, its efforts to work with Congress to provide it the information that was required under legitimate oversight needs, an assertion was made — because this has become a political fishing expedition.
And it is absolute evidence — and I would refer you to the statements by congressional House — rather, Republican congressional leaders from the beginning of the year, where they made clear that one of their chief priorities for this year was to use their investigative power in the House to score political points in this election year. I think knowing that tells you everything about the motivations here.
Q You make the point that you’ve turned over thousands of documents, and yet not all of the documents that Congress would like to see. So what’s the difference? Why not —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I made clear in answers several times to the questions that every document that relates to the Fast and Furious operation has been provided. And others have been provided, as I mentioned last fall, that relate to any knowledge anybody in the White House had contemporaneously about the Fast and Furious operation — again, as part of an effort to cooperate, as part of an effort to resolve this matter in a professional way, not in a partisan way.
Unfortunately, there has been a clear commitment by the chairman involved and leaders in the Republican Party in the House but also in the Senate to try to turn this into a political issue.
And I think it is worth checking in with the American people as to whether they think that is worth the effort — that that is what they what Congress to be doing at a time when Congress could be passing bills tomorrow that would keep a million construction workers on the job in this country in this economy. They could be passing bills tomorrow that would ensure that teachers would not be laid off, and that teachers that have been laid off would return to the classroom. They could pass a bill tomorrow to provide access to historically low mortgage interest rates to Americans across the country, during a period where we’re still very much recovering from a terrible housing — having the housing bubble burst and a crisis that ensued for so many families with regards to the values of their homes.
These are actions that the American people expect Congress to take. They do not expect Congress to waste time on politically motivated fishing expeditions, which this has clearly become. …
Q Jay, you said to an earlier question that there was no White House cover-up involved in these documents that the President had declared privilege on. And you also said that, just again, that the President is just trying to protect the constitutionally enshrined power of the executive power to make decisions independently. In the documents in question is there any information that if put on the public record would jeopardize national security interest or embarrass the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, those are — (laughter) — I’m not going to give you a readout of documents that are under question here and relate to the assertion of privilege. What I can tell you is that there is nothing in these documents that pertains to the Fast and Furious operation. And I would simply note and have you ponder the fact that the Attorney General referred this to the Inspector General for investigation, and the Inspector General has access to all documentation as a member of the executive branch.
Q I guess the question is are you declaring it mostly on principle to ensure the separation of power or is there an issue of national security —
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for phrasing that. This is entirely about principle. It has nothing to do — (laughter) — no, no, this has nothing to do — we have been absolutely clear about the fact that this operation used a tactic that originated in a field office that was flawed, that was wrong, and that had terrible consequences for the Terry family, and should not have been employed. And this Attorney General, when he learned about it, put an end to it and referred it for investigation.
I think that is — long before this became an issue for House Republicans to politicize, this was something that the Attorney General made sure was being investigated by the Inspector General.
In terms of the assertion of privilege, it is, as I’ve said I think on a number of occasions already today, absolutely about the principle. It is not something that the President takes lightly. He does it because it is his responsibility as steward of the executive branch to retain the capacity of this administration, and every administration going forward, to function appropriately and independently from the congressional branch of government.
And I think, again, in answer to Ed’s question about why is he doing it just now: Because we have been working so hard to cooperate and reach agreement with congressional investigators as they pursued their legitimate oversight into the Fast and Furious operation. But as they made clear in their own statements, that’s not what seems to be the motivating factor here.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/11/12
Q Jay, Fast and Furious — the House is moving towards a vote on contempt charges. What’s the White House view on this?
MR. CARNEY: The White House view — as you know, Ed, fighting criminal activity along the Southwest border, including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico, remains a priority of this administration. The Attorney General has also made clear that he takes the allegations that have been raised very seriously, and that is why he asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter. It is also why you see the Department cooperating with congressional investigators, including producing 7,600 pages of documents, and including testimony at hours and hours of congressional hearings.
The Attorney General himself has appeared eight times on the Hill, including four hours of testimony just last Thursday. So have several senior Justice Department officials, including the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and the Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs.
Given the Justice Department’s efforts to accommodate the committee investigation, I can only refer you to the Republican House Judiciary member who recently conceded that this investigation is “politics.”
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/2/12
Q Jay, what’s the view here of the status of the investigation into the Fast and Furious gun-walking case — the administration’s investigation of it, Justice Department? And what is your response to the growing Republican calls for Eric Holder to resign or for the President to can him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think the politicization of this — or the politization of this is pretty apparent. The Attorney General spent the last five hours testifying in front of Congress. I would refer you to the Department of Justice for any questions regarding his testimony. But broadly speaking, fighting criminal activity along the Southwest border, including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico, remains a priority of this administration.
The Attorney General has also made clear that he takes the allegations that have been raised very seriously, and that is why he asked the Inspector General of the Justice Department to investigate this matter. It is also why you saw the department cooperating with congressional investigators, including producing thousands of pages of documents and the Attorney General making his sixth appearance on the Hill to discuss this. So any suggestion that we haven’t been cooperative with Congress, after six appearances testifying, I think doesn’t comport with the facts.
Q And the calls for him to resign or for the President to fire him — does the President stand by him fully?
MR. CARNEY: He absolutely stands by the Attorney General; thinks he’s doing an excellent job.
Q Is that a new investigation —
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to get to you. I’m going to work around here.
News Conference by the President October 6, 2011
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Just to follow up on Jackie’s question — one of the reasons why so many of the people of the Occupy Wall Street protests are so angry is because, as you say, so many people on Wall Street did not follow the rules, but your administration hasn’t really been very aggressive in prosecuting. In fact, I don’t think any Wall Street executives have gone to jail despite the rampant corruption and malfeasance that did take place. So I was wondering if you’d comment on that.
And then just as a separate question — as you’re watching the Solyndra and Fast and Furious controversies play out, I’m wondering if it gives you any pause about any of the decision-making going on in your administration — some of the emails that Democrats puts out indicating that people at the Office of Management and Budget were concerned about the Department of Energy; some of the emails going on with the Attorney General saying he didn’t know about the details of Fast and Furious. Are you worried at all about how this is — how your administration is running?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first on the issue of prosecutions on Wall Street, one of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehmans and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole subprime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless. That’s exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank, to prohibit some of these practices.
The financial sector is very creative and they are always looking for ways to make money. That’s their job. And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it. So without commenting on particular prosecutions — obviously that’s not my job; that’s the Attorney General’s job — I think part of people’s frustrations, part of my frustration, was a lot of practices that should not have been allowed weren’t necessarily against the law, but they had a huge destructive impact. And that’s why it was important for us to put in place financial rules that protect the American people from reckless decision-making and irresponsible behavior.
Now, with respect to Solyndra and Fast and Furious, I think I’ve been very clear that I have complete confidence in Attorney General Holder in how he handles his office. He has been very aggressive in going after gun running and cash transactions that are going to these transnational drug cartels in Mexico. There has been a lot of cooperation between the United States and Mexico on this front. He’s indicated that he was not aware of what was happening in Fast and Furious; certainly I was not. And I think both he and I would have been very unhappy if somebody had suggested that guns were allowed to pass through that could have been prevented by the United States of America.
He has assigned an Inspector General to look into how exactly this happened, and I have complete confidence in him and I’ve got complete confidence in the process to figure out who, in fact, was responsible for that decision and how it got made.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney 10/05/2011
Q There have been calls for a general counsel to investigate whether or not the Attorney General perjured himself when testifying about Fast and Furious. Does the President have a reaction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there has been one call — and I think it’s a biannual call for a special counsel by this particular congressman. Once every six months we hear something similar. And the fact is, the Attorney General’s testimony to both the House and the Senate was consistent and truthful.
He said in both March and May of this year that he became aware of the questionable tactics employed in the Fast and Furious operation in early 2011, when ATF agents first raised them publicly. And he then asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate the matter, demonstrating how seriously he took them.
Q The question in May was when did he first hear about Fast and Furious? Not the questionable tactics, but when did he first hear of the program?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the Attorney General’s testimony was consistent and truthful. And calls for special counsels, which seem to be a regular occurrence, do not change that fact.
And when the Attorney General learned about the questionable tactics, he asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate the matter…
Q Thanks, Jay. I want to go back to Fast and Furious because what you said the Attorney General said is not what he said. He said, quote — and this is in May of this year — “I’m not sure of the exact date but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” Now these documents that Jake was referring to say that he was actually told the first time about this July 2010 and October of 2010 —
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re suggesting — first of all, I would refer you to the Department of Justice that is handling this.
Q He’s the President’s Attorney General, so —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and the President believes he’s an excellent Attorney General and has great confidence in him, and we absolutely know that the testimony he gave was consistent and truthful. And —
Q So how does he have confidence in him if he’s a year off on what —
MR. CARNEY: If a piece of paper in a document that’s many, many pages long contained a phrase that discussed nothing about the tactics that are at issue here, I think what we’re talking about —
Q But he didn’t talk about — I just want to be clear. In his quote he never said tactics. He said —
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the Attorney General’s testimony —
Q — the first time he heard about it —
MR. CARNEY: — was consistent and truthful.
Q — and in the document, in July, he heard about it.
MR. CARNEY: Consistent and truthful.
Q Okay, but you’re not addressing the fact that he was not talking about questionable tactics.
MR. CARNEY: I think I just did.
Q In his quote in May, he said, “The first time I heard about it was a few weeks ago.”
MR. CARNEY: The issue here is not the name, it’s what happened and the questionable tactics. When he heard that, as testified, he asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate it aggressively, and he has cooperated with — the Department of Justice has cooperated with the congressional investigation. So what he’s testified to is consistent and truthful, and his cooperation — both the fact that he believes it was a problem that needed to be investigated is demonstrated by the action he took, and the department has cooperated with the Congress as it looks into the matter.
Q So to clear up any confusion, when was the first time the President —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I —
Q No, no, not the Attorney General. When was the first time the President heard about this program?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as he said in public, in a press conference, he heard about it when he read about it. And that was sometime earlier this year. I think the press conference was in El Salvador when he was on that trip, and he referenced having heard about it recently. I don’t have a specific day.
Q Okay. And Sheryl Atkinson of CBS News is saying that a few days ago, I believe, a White House official and a Justice Department official was yelling and screaming at her — she’s been reporting about this for some time — about this whole story.
You were a reporter once. When government officials start yelling at you, sometimes it’s because they’re getting defensive, right? Why would they be yelling at her?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I have no insight into the conversations she may or may not have had. Second of all, I know that you guys are all hard-bitten, veteran journalists and probably don’t complain when you have tough conversations with your sources sometimes. Again, this is just generally speaking.
I don’t know about it. I think it’s —
Q But she’s a credible reporter. When you say, “I’m not sure what conversations she had,” I mean, she said this on the record that she was yelled at and screamed at. Why would the administration be yelling at her about this story? I don’t —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I take issue with the report. I don’t know that it’s true. I’m just — what I think is that I know you are tough enough to handle an extra decibel or two in a phone conversation. I’m not sure that that happened here, but it’s a surprising complaint.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/5/2011
Q About the Fast and Furious program — I know that there’s this investigation going on internally — weapons from the Fast and Furious program are now showing up in the United States attached to criminal transactions. The ABC station in Phoenix last week reported on several of these weapons from Fast and Furious turning up. How come we know so little — the public knows so little about this program? And what is the administration doing to get to the bottom of these weapons, which are now showing up in crimes in the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there’s an investigation going on precisely to get to the bottom of this. And I can’t comment further on it, because there is an investigation going on.
Q Can the acting head of the BATF be permitted to go to Capitol Hill to testify? My understanding is that the — that he has not been allowed by the administration to go there and explain what’s going on.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to refer you to Justice on that. I don’t have any information on that.
Q Is this not something that you guys are worried about and incensed about? This is something —
MR. CARNEY: Well, Jake, I think it’s being investigated for a reason. And obviously it’s a matter of concern and that’s why there’s an investigation. But it would be a mistake for me to comment further on — or to characterize further what happened or how to rate our unhappiness about it from here. So I think that I have to refer you to the Justice Department for that.
Q Lastly, I mean, we have heard at times when the President was upset about something — “plug the damn hole,” is one such anecdote that was shared exclusively with every single person in this room by the White House. Do you — is the President upset about this? I mean, this is a government operation where now weapons — I mean, the Mexicans are upset that guns are now turning up in —
MR. CARNEY: I think you could assume that the President takes this very seriously.
Q No one has lost their job. We don’t —
MR. CARNEY: And there’s an investigation going on, so to comment on people’s jobs and that sort of thing is inappropriate. But the President takes it very seriously. I think he made clear when the — during the Mexican state visit and the press conference he had then that he found out about this through news reports. And he takes it very seriously.
Press Conference by the President 6/29/2011
Antonieta Cádiz? There you are.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. First, if you receive a mandatory E-verify bill only without legalization, are you planning to veto that deal?
And second, on Fast and Furious, members of Congress and the government of Mexico are still waiting for answers. Are you planning to replace ATF leadership? And when can we expect the results of the current investigation?
THE PRESIDENT: On the second question, as you know, my attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun running to be able to pass through into Mexico. The investigation is still pending. I’m not going to comment on a current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation is completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/20/2011
Q Jay, is ATF Director Kenneth Melson resigning, and is the President dissatisfied with the handling of the Fast and Furious operation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new for you on Fast and Furious beyond what I think I said the last time I briefed, which was Thursday. And I don’t have anything for you on ATF. Maybe ATF itself or Justice might have on that.
Q Melson retains his confidence — the President?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have — all I can tell you is that you should take those questions to the Department of Justice. I just don’t have any guidance for you.
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/17/2011
Q Is the administration — or does the President have any personal reaction to the investigative report from the House investigative committee upon the ATF “Fast and Furious” program and all the blowback from that operation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything specific like a quote from the President. I can tell you that, as the President has already said, he did not know about or authorize this operation. But the Department of Justice has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest border, including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico, has been and is a priority of the Department.
The Attorney General has also made clear that he takes the allegations that have been made — or raised, rather, very seriously, and that is why he has asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter. It is also why you see the department cooperating with the oversight committee.
So this investigation is ongoing, and I really can’t comment beyond that.
Q Has the President heard from the Mexican authorities about it?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I believe the President made a comment about this that I was just referencing when the Mexican President was here.
Q That’s when — okay, that’s when you were —
MR. CARNEY: So I don’t — I mean, it certainly came up in that room when it was —
Q But I mean specifically this week with the report being issued.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe so. I’m not aware of any conversation like that.
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