WASHINGTON -- The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted to find Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to provide subpoenaed documents in the flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking case, just hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege and backed the attorney general’s refusal to release the material.
The vote for contempt and the White House insertion into the growing Southwest border “gun-walking” scandal set up a significant constitutional clash between the two branches of the federal government, one that ultimately may not be resolved until it reaches the courts.
The Republican-led committee, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), voted strictly along party lines in finding Holder in contempt. It now sends the matter to the full House for a floor vote to ask the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., or a special prosecutor to force the Obama administration to provide the documents.
“The committee has uncovered serious wrongdoing by the Justice department,” Issa said of his 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. “That wrongdoing has cost lives on both sides of the border.”
But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the panel, said the Republicans caused the standoff by demanding the release of internal Department of Justice records. “The administration was forced into this position by the committee’s unreasonable insistence on pressing forward, “ he said.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), put it on a more personal level and said she was “extremely disgusted” that her committee had come to this. “I am horrified you are going through with this contempt charge,” she said. “This shouldn’t be a witch hunt.”
All 23 Republicans on the panel voted for contempt, and all 17 Democrats against the contempt resolution.
As they cast their votes, however, President Obama’s claim of executive privilege loomed large over the House committee hearing room, suggesting that Holder or some other high administration official discussed Fast and Furious with the president, and that he agrees about 1,300 pages of documents under subpoena should not be made public.
House Speaker John A. Boehner(R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released a statement immediately after the vote.
“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,” they said.