Jordy Yager, The Hill, June 20, 2012
A House panel voted Wednesday to place Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his failure to comply with a subpoena, defying an assertion of executive privilege from President Obama.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Republican Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.), approved a resolution along party lines to place Holder in contempt after battling him for months over access to internal agency documents about the gun-tracking operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
The vote came after Obama escalated the conflict by sending a letter to the committee claiming executive privilege over the documents the panel had sought.
All 23 Republicans on the committee voted for the contempt resolution, while all 17 Democrats voted against it. Every member of the panel was present for the vote.
Minutes after the panel’s decision, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced that the full House will vote on the contempt measure next week.
“While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the attorney general reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week,” the Republican leaders said in a statement. “If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue.”
Holder blasted Issa in a statement following the vote while touting the efforts the DOJ has made to try and meet the chairman’s demands.
“From the beginning, Chairman Issa and certain members of the committee have made unsubstantiated allegations first, then scrambled for facts to try to justify them later,” said Holder.
“That might make for good political theater, but it does little to uncover the truth or address the problems associated with this operation and prior ones dating back to the previous administration.”
Obama’s move to bring the Fast and Furious documents under executive privilege came just minutes before the panel began the contempt proceedings. In the letter announcing Obama’s decision, Deputy Attorney General James Cole argued DOJ has made “extraordinary efforts to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests.”
“The information provided to the Committee shows clearly that the Department leadership did not intend to mislead Congress in the February 4 letter or in any other statements concerning Fast and Furious,” Cole said in the letter.
Issa said the assertion of privilege by Obama fell short of any reason to delay the vote against Holder.
The high-stakes move against the attorney general came after talks to avoid the contempt vote fell apart Tuesday evening.
Holder attempted to exchange the requested documents for an agreement from Issa to drop his two subpoenas and the contempt measure. But the powerful Republican balked at anything short of a full document production while making no guarantees in return.
Issa wants documents that he says would show how much Justice knows about Fast and Furious, a controversial gun-tracking operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Holder has insisted he did not know of the operation.
“Until now, everyone believed that the decisions regarding Fast and Furious were confined to the Department of Justice,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the Fast and Furious operation or the cover-up that followed. The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”
Even with 242 Republicans in the House majority, it remains unclear whether the contempt measure would have the backing of the full caucus. Many GOP members have resisted action on the Fast and Furious issue out of a desire to keep the 2012 election focus on the economy and jobs.