Politics
In this Sunday, April 22, 2012, photo provided by CBS News Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks on CBS In this Sunday, April 22, 2012, photo provided by CBS News Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks on CBS's "Face the Nation" in Washington. (AP Photo/CBS News, Mary F. Calvert)  

Cummings to Issa: Halt contempt proceedings against Holder

Photo of Matthew Boyle
Matthew Boyle
Investigative Reporter

House oversight committee ranking Democratic member Rep. Elijah Cummings asked his committee’s chairman, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, to withdraw the looming contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder for withholding subpoenaed documents related to Operation Fast and Furious.

In a press release following a Thursday House Judiciary Committee hearing in which Holder sparred with House Republicans, Cummings claimed Issa has flip-flopped on the documents he has subpoenaed —  for election-year political reasons.

At issue in Cummings’ request are wiretap applications that were sealed by a federal judge, which Issa announced his committee recently obtained. Issa claimed the six applications show that senior Justice Department officials approved Fast and Furious gunrunning tactics.

The documents, Issa has written, demonstrate that Holder and several other DOJ officials in the Obama administration provided “false” statements to Congress.

But during a disruption in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Mel Watt attacked Issa for bringing up the wiretaps at all. They argued it was unfair for Issa to subpoena those wiretap documents because they were sealed by a judge. Violating that order, they said, can bring is a penalty of five years in prison. The Daily Caller spotted Jackson Lee speaking with Holder at the beginning of the hearing.

Issa shot back, saying, “We did not request any wiretaps under seal.”

He knows this, he said, because, “I’m the person who signed the subpoenas.”

Issa said he obtained the sealed wiretap documents from a whistleblower. He did, however, subpoena other unsealed documents and communications between various Justice officials — files that may have painted a picture into which the wiretap applications, and their approvals, logically fit. (RELATED: Holder admits Axelrod, White House helped craft Fast and Furious PR strategy)

That October 2011 subpoena covered 22 categories of documents, none of which Holder’s DOJ has complied with fully. It did not include sealed wiretap applications that the House oversight committee could not have known existed.

After the hearing, Cummings continued Jackson Lee and Watt’s criticism.

“The chairman has been demanding these wiretap applications for months and even threatened to hold the attorney general in contempt for not providing them, yet today he claimed he never wanted them in the first place,” Cummings said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “It makes no sense to hold the attorney general in contempt for withholding documents that Chairman Issa claims he never requested.”

“These changing demands raise fundamental questions about the investigation and suggest that it is designed to promote an election-year political agenda rather than obtain needed information,” he said.

Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins told The Daily Caller that the committee’s goal was not to play a semantic word game, and that Cummings’ objection makes it clear that he isn’t interested in discovering how Fast and Furious was approved, or by whom.

“The Ranking Member is clearly uncomfortable discussing the significance of reckless conduct explained in the wiretap applications and is making a muddled attempt to change the subject with a confusing argument that has no merit,” Watkins wrote in an email. “Rep. Cummings has made it abundantly clear over the last year and a half that he’s not interested in knowing what really went wrong in Operation Fast and Furious.”

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