Somewhere along the line, every administration employs executive privilege to keep unpleasant information under wraps.

It’s a practice that’s steeped in tradition, but weak from a legal standpoint. The term “executive privilege” appears nowhere in the Constitution. It’s this nebulous nature of executive privilege that causes presidents problems whenever they seek to apply it.

And so it is with President Barack Obama, who has asserted executive privilege over his administration’s Fast and Furious program. This was a botched endeavor that had its roots in the Bush administration as an effort to track the flow of gun smuggling across the Mexican border.

But the initiative expanded significantly under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Several problem existed with Fast and Furious, which allowed weapons to move illegally over the border. The most serious was the fact that some of the guns in question wound up killing people, including a U.S. border agent in one instance.

But the other issue dealt with the illegal nature of Fast and Furious. There was no authorization under federal law for the government to observe illegal arms shipments without trying to stop them. The goal of trying to determine who was involved in the flow of these weapons may have been a desirable one, but the results offer a cautionary tale.

With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, an aggressive effort was made to track down details surrounding Fast and Furious to learn what went wrong. No doubt a desire to embarrass a Democratic administration was a f actor in this, but Congress does have an important role to play when it comes to government oversight and keeping executive power in check.

Although many documents were turned over, some pertaining to an original Justice Department denial of facts involved in Fast and Furious have been withheld from Congress. It is with these documents that Obama has claimed executive privilege.

In June, the House took the unprecedented step of declaring Holder in contempt over these documents. And this week, Republican lawmakers went to court to further press the issue.

Obviously, we don’t know what’s in the documents the White House is protecting. But based on court precedent and the evidence at hand, we don’t think the executive privilege assertion holds merit.

We presume there is additional information in Fast and Furious documents that will put the Justice Department in a bad light. But the dubious use of executive privilege will do even more damage to the administration’s credibility.

Obama should order the release of these documents and let the chips fall where they may. The news may be bad, but being forced by the courts to turn them over would be even worse.

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