A vote on a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder over Operation Fast and Furious has been scheduled for June 20 after an attempt by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to negotiate a less confrontational resolution apparently failed.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Monday that it would consider the measure, which was produced in April after committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he had had enough of what he believed to be “stonewalling” by the Justice Department.
Boehner was reportedly in talks with the Justice Department to resolve the issue as recently as last week, but publicity about the discussions may have put pressure on the Speaker to allow a vote on a contempt citation, as supported by many in his increasingly conservative caucus.
The contempt measure centers on an October 2011 subpoena from the committee that demands thousands of Justice Department documents related to the botched gun-tracing operation.
“The Justice Department’s actions have obstructed the investigation. Congress has an obligation to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistleblowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation, and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa said in a statement.
“While the Justice Department can still stop the process of contempt, this will only occur through the delivery of the post February 4, 2011, documents related to Operation Fast and Furious and whistleblower accusations subpoenaed by the Committee. If the Attorney General decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary,” the statement said.
Boehner also issued a statement on Monday, saying the department is “out of excuses.”
“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner said in the statement. “Agent Terry’s family, the whistleblowers who brought this issue to light, and the American people deserve answers. 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.”
Holder has noted that the department has released more then 7,000 documents to congressional investigators already. The Justice Department has said it cannot release all of the documents because some concern ongoing law enforcement actions, and doing so could harm the integrity of investigations and prosecutions. Democrats on the committee have supported Holder and the department.
Last week, Issa said Holder was “not a good witness” while questioning him about Fast and Furious at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Issa recently acquired wiretap applications from the gun-tracing investigation and he says they clearly show that high-level department officials were aware of the tactics being used in the failed operation, an assertion Holder and others have repeatedly disputed.
Fast and Furious was a gun-tracing operation headed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau allowed some-2,000 guns to be sold to straw-buyers in an attempt to track the firearms to Mexican cartels. The operation backfired, however, and hundreds of guns were lost. Two guns were found at the scene of a shootout between U.S. Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits. Border Agent Brian Terry was killed in the gunfire.
The last contempt vote came in 2008 when the Democratic-led House voted to find White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress in a probe of what the Justice Department Inspector General found to be politically movitated hiring practices in the George W. Bush administration’s Justice Department.
Update: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, released the following statement on Monday.
“It is unfortunate that the Committee scheduled a contempt vote against the Attorney General when federal law prohibits him from turning over many of the subpoenaed documents, but I am guardedly optimistic that a path forward exists that will serve the legitimate interests of the Committee in conducting rigorous oversight, protect the legitimate interests of the Department in its ongoing investigations and prosecutions, and avoid the needless politicization of this very serious issue.”