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Originally published Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:58 PM

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House should hold Holder in contempt

The Seattle Times editorial board argues that the Justice Department should hand over documents regarding the "Fast and Furious" gun-sale program, or else the House of Representatives should declare Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Seattle Times Editorial

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EXECUTIVE privilege is a principle dangerous to democracy, whether invoked by a Republican or Democratic president. The Obama administration has invoked it and now is threatened with retaliation: House Republicans say unless the administration hands over subpoenaed documents, they will vote Thursday to declare Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. If that is what it takes, they should do it.

It is an election year, so the administration's defenders are saying that a call for disclosure is "all politics." Of course there is political hay in it, but the request is still valid. Congress needs to know about botched government programs.

This was one. Called "Fast and Furious," it was a sting operation run out of the Phoenix, Ariz., office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from 2009 to 2011. Its aim was to allow Mexican drug organizations to buy illegal guns so that U.S. agents could follow the guns, arrest the people who had them and destroy the cartels.

The U.S. agents lost track of hundreds of guns. In 2010, two of the guns were found at the killing scene of U.S. border agent Brian Terry. The Mexican government also said Fast and Furious guns were found at 170 crime scenes in Mexico.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, followed with an investigation, which led to the testimony of Holder and the release of 7,000 pages of Department of Justice documents.

Another 1,300 pages under House of Representatives subpoena were the subject of a presidential order of executive privilege, the first such order of Obama's presidency. That is what the argument is about.

Obama has said he did not know about Fast and Furious, and Issa does not claim the president knew. That is not the issue.

The issue is whether Congress has the right to learn about it, and it does.

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