Speaking at a Monitor-hosted breakfast, the freshman senator was responding to the Obama administration’s decision Wednesday to claim executive privilege in refusing to hand over Justice Department documents to a congressional committee investigating a failed anti-gun-trafficking operation.
“I think we’ve about reached the point of no return on this issue,” Senator Rubio said Thursday, after replying “yes” to a reporter’s question on whether he believes Mr. Holder should step down. “I think they’ve been given multiple opportunities to answer very legitimate questions that the Congress has.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to find Holder in contempt over the refusal to turn over certain documents on Operation Fast and Furious, a move Democrats – including Holder – decried as politically motivated.
The claim of executive privilege by the Obama administration escalated the conflict with committee chairman Darrell Issa (R) of California, who launched an investigation into the Phoenix-based “gun-walking” operation in the spring of 2011.
“We know for a fact that something they told the Congress was not true,” Rubio said. “And now I think it’s very legitimate for the Congress to enquire as to why we were told something that wasn’t true, and they refuse to provide materials to prove that.”
Rubio wasn’t specific on the issue of falsehoods. Though it is known that last year, a Justice Department official asserted in a letter to lawmakers that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had not knowingly allowed illegally purchased guns to be trafficked into Mexico, then retracted the claim 10 months later. On Wednesday, the Justice Department retracted a statement that Holder had made to the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing last week, when he claimed to have been briefed about similar gunwalking tactics used in the Bush administration by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey. That claim had been made "inadvertently," the Justice Department said, in a letter.
Rubio said he believed the House had provided Holder with adequate opportunities in which to answer questions without endangering the government’s ability to operate.
“Invoking executive privilege at the 11th hour yesterday was probably the last straw in that regard, and I think we’re now at the point of no return,” Rubio said. “I don’t know how the attorney general can continue to exercise that office with any level of credibility after the decision that was made yesterday.”
The claim of executive privilege was the first of President Obama’s tenure.