Atty. Gen. Eric Holder speaks at the League of Women Voters National Convention… (Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo )
WASHINGTON -- Top House Republicans, saying the Department of Justice is “out of excuses,” scheduled a committee vote to hold Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide subpoenaed documents in the ATF’s flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.
The vote, scheduled in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for June 20, sets the clock ticking toward a showdown between the GOP-led House and the Obama administration’s Justice Department over a central question in the Fast and Furious debacle: Did senior Justice and White House officials know or approve of the program that lost thousands of assault rifles and other weapons on both sides of the Southwest border?
The committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), for months has demanded that Holder honor a series of subpoenas requesting Justice Department documents on Fast and Furious, and Holder has failed to provide some of them, citing ongoing criminal cases in Arizona.
On Monday, the rhetoric ratcheted up when House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) gave the green light to proceed with a vote on contempt. “The Justice Department is out of excuses.” Boehner said. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”
Tracy Schmaler, chief spokeswoman for Holder, said Justice officials have tried to work out a compromise with the committee, and she called the ultimatum at this point “unfortunate and unwarranted.”
She added, “Chairman Issa has distorted the facts, ignored testimony and flung inaccurate accusations at the attorney general and others. This latest move fits within that tired political playbook that has so many Americans disillusioned with Washington.”
Schmaler said Holder already has put a stop to the gun-walking tactics under Fast and Furious, called for an inspector general’s investigation and “instituted reforms to prevent this from happening again.” Holder says his department already has provided about 7,000 pages of material, but Issa has countered that much of that is meaningless and another 240,000 pages have not been turned over.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the oversight committee, agreed that a contempt vote was “unfortunate” at this time. He remained “guardedly optimistic” that a compromise could be reached.
Run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Fast and Furious allowed illegal gun purchases so ATF agents could track the weapons to Mexican drug cartel leaders. It was shut down after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010, and two of the weapons were recovered.