Atty. Gen. Eric Holder chats with a guest as he arrives for the annual picnic… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)
WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives has begun considering whether to find Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena to turn over internal Department of Justice documents in the "Fast and Furious" gun-tracking scandal.
If contempt is approved, which appears likely, it will mark the first time in the nation’s history that a sitting Cabinet member has been found in contempt of Congress. The vote has been scheduled for about 5 p.m. Eastern time.
For Holder, the debate and vote on contempt come at a time when he has been under sharp attack by Republicans for his handling of the botched gun-tracking operation. His refusal to provide about 1,500 pages of documents has convinced GOP lawmakers that he is hiding what he and other top Justice Department officials knew about Fast and Furious.
With two gun lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Assn., warning that they will be monitoring the floor debate and scoring how House members vote, two dozen or more conservative Democrats indicated they may join Republicans in voting for contempt.
At the same time, a bloc of black Democrats and Democrats from other minority groups said they plan to walk out during the debate and voting in a gesture of solidarity to Holder and President Obama.
The attorney general maintains that he has cooperated with the committee, and ordered Fast and Furious shut down as soon as he learned about the undercover operation.
In addition, Obama has asserted executive privilege in the matter, further protecting the documents from being shared with the panel.
The House will consider two resolutions. The first would ask the U.S. attorney in Washington to file a criminal case to force Holder to comply with the subpoena. The other would permit the House to hire an outside attorney to file a civil lawsuit asking a judge to compel Holder to cooperate.
House Republicans have been requesting the material for months, specifically internal documents dealing with how Holder and other Justice officials handled the scandal that became public in early 2011.
Under Fast and Furious, about 2,500 illegal firearms circulated on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The program ran for a little over a year, and was shut down after two of the weapons were recovered at the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol agent.