House Panel Votes To Hold Eric Holder In Contempt Of Congress Over Gun-Running Case

A House oversight committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, marking an escalation of the long-running dispute between Republicans and the Justice Department over internal administration documents related to Operation Fast and Furious.

The House Government Oversight and Reform Committee has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress by a 23-17 vote. Photo: The Aspen Institute/Flickr

On Wednesday the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted to find Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to provide subpoenaed documents in the flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking case, reports Los Angeles Times.

The 23-17 vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress just hours after President Obama invoked executive privilege of certain documents related to the controversial botched gun-trafficking sting.

House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced the vote after the Oversight and Government Reform Committee made Holder the first Cabinet official held in contempt by a congressional panel in 14 years.

“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,” Boehner and Cantor 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,” the statement said.

According to Business Week, Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Holder met late Tuesday for about 20 minutes in an unsuccessful, last-minute effort to head off Wednesday’s contempt hearing.

“The committee has uncovered serious wrongdoing by the Justice department,” Issa said of the investigation into Fast and Furious, in which several thousand illegally purchased firearms were circulated on both sides of the Southwest border and many wound up with Mexican drug cartels.

He added: “That wrongdoing has cost lives on both sides of the border.”

“Our purpose has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt,” Issa said. “Our purpose has always been to get the information the committee needs to complete its work — that it is not only entitled to, but obligated to do.”

The committee is seeking documents describing internal Justice Department discussions about a February 2011 letter to lawmakers that Holder later said mistakenly contained incorrect information.

Holder said in a statement that the Justice Department had been responsive to the panel’s demand for information, according to Reuters. He accused Issa and other Republicans on the panel of provoking an “avoidable conflict” between Congress and the White House.

“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,” Holder said in the statement.

“Unfortunately, Chairman Issa has rejected all of these efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation,” Holder said in the statement. “Instead, he has chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the executive branch.”

Even before the vote, the White House criticized the panel chaired by Issa.

“Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said.

The White House akso noted that this is the first time Obama has asserted executive privilege during his presidency. President George W. Bush claimed the privilege six times and President Clinton 14 times.

Two weapons traced to the gun operation were recovered at the scene of the 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, whose death brought an end to the gun-trafficking operation.

Later the investigation into the operation was spurred after Sen.Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, inquired into whistle-blower allegations that the government had allowed the transfer of illegally purchased weapons into Mexico.

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