Attorney General Eric Holder could be held in contempt of Congress after a party line vote Wednesday by the House Oversight committee. The committee cited Holder for failing to turn over documents relating to the botched "Fast and Furious" weapons sting operation, even after President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over some documents sought by the panel. The recommendation now goes to the full House for a vote next week.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, tells Soledad on "Starting Point" that he believes President Obama had no choice but to use executive privilege on the documents, and says "this is not about the facts. This is about politics."
Transcript available after the jump.
O'BRIEN: Nice to see you as always. Did you know before it happened the president would assert his executive privilege in this case?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: We knew about a half an hour before it was done.
O'BRIEN: You were not surprised it came as a surprise to a lot of people. What do you think about the president doing that?
CUMMINGS: I thought the president had no choice. First of all, this is a situation that could have been avoided if the Republicans had been a little bit reasonable. He had no choice. These were deliberative documents that all attorney generals have held close and not released. This attorney general released about 1,000 of those documents voluntarily, and Mr. Issa wanted more and more.
And as the attorney general said in the meeting last Friday, this is his watch. He had to do what attorney generals have done overall the years that attorney generals have been in existence, that is protect the office. And basically that's what the president did. He had to inject himself into the process.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Issa said that Eric Holder told him the other day it was about embarrassment. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been a tendency on the part of this administration to try to hide behind executive privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: My apologies, sir. That obviously is not the right clip. Do we have that, guys? This is Chairman Issa. I will read it, if I can. He said "I can tell you he told me just last night that many of these documents he was willing to have us obtain if we agree to settle the case would be very embarrassing. You were in that meeting." Is that correct? Is that what Eric Holder told him?
CUMMINGS: I didn't hear that. I did not hear that. Again, Chairman Issa said several things that I didn't hear in the meeting. I was there the entire time. I think clearly this was a situation where attorney general has cooperated to the nth degree, and the only thing he asked for is that we come to some type of conclusion with regard to this contempt situation. And again what this happened yesterday was extreme, Soledad. I understand in all of the years in existence of the Congress no attorney general has been brought up for contempt in the House. And basically I think you have once again the far right of this party pushing and pushing and I just find it extremely alarming that we have gotten to this point and it is very unfortunate.
O'BRIEN: There are Republicans that would say asserting executive privilege is an indication that maybe the White House was involved. Is that how you read it?
CUMMINGS: Not at all. I think this is a situation where this president has done what presidents have done for years, and again, it seems as if when he does it, or when Eric Holder does what attorney generals have done, suddenly it is a major criminal case and has to be taken to the floor of the House.
Keep in mind back in the 1990s Janet Reno was voted for contempt in a committee, but even Newt Gingrich said, no, we cannot take this to the floor of the House. So this is - we are seeing the far right operating at its very best.
O'BRIEN: President Obama is not the first president to use executive privilege, as you well know, although this is the first time he is claiming it. When President Bush used it for his sixth time, the president, Obama, then a senator, said he talked about he thought that it was about coming clean, not to use executive privilege because the people deserved to hear and it was about coming clean. It sounds like he is contradicting himself in that position now that he is not a senator and he is the president.
CUMMINGS: Not at all. We have a situation here - keep in mind what I just said. This attorney general voluntarily released 1,000 pages of deliberative communications. That's unprecedented. In other words, he bent over backwards to give the Republicans what they want.
But understand, this is not about the facts. This is about politics. Anybody who looks at this, knows that. The chairman made up his mind and this is the result that I guess he wanted and now we see where we are. Again, this could have been avoided, just if the chairman had been the least bit reasonable.
O'BRIEN: Elijah Cummings is a congressman, Democrat from the state of Maryland. Nice to see you as always. Appreciate your time.
CUMMINGS: My pleasure.