California Rep. Darrell Issa’s House oversight committee passed a contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder late Wednesday afternoon.
The vote passed 23-17, strictly along party lines. All of the committee’s Republicans voted for it, and all the Democrats voted against it.
“We just sent the Eric Holder contempt resolution to the full US House of Representatives,” the House oversight committee tweeted shortly after.
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the contempt vote will happen next week in the full House if Holder does not provide documents.
“Despite being given multiple opportunities to provide the documents necessary for Congress’ investigation into Fast and Furious, Attorney General Holder continues to stonewall,” Boehner and Cantor said in the joint statement. (PELOSI SCOLDS: ‘Loose cannon would sort of be like such a compliment to Darrell Issa’)
“Today, the Administration took the extraordinary step of exerting executive privilege over documents that the Attorney General had already agreed to provide to Congress,” said the joint statement. “Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. 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. If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue.”
In a statement, Issa said this wasn’t “the outcome I had hoped for and today’s proceeding would not have occurred had Attorney General Eric Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.”
“The President’s assertion of Executive Privilege this morning took us by surprise but did not alter the Committee’s conclusion that documents had been inappropriately withheld,” Issa continued. “Executive Privilege only applies to materials that directly pertain to communications with the President and his senior advisors. This assertion indicates that the White House’s role in Operation Fast and Furious and the response to whistleblower accusations has been greater than previously acknowledged. Just yesterday, the Attorney General indicated a willingness to produce a small subset of documents on the condition that the Committee end its investigation before they were described or made available for review. Today, the President asserted Executive Privilege to ensure they are never produced.”
Ultimately, though Issa said he’ll keep his focus on the getting the tough answers and finding the truth.
“At the heart of the Congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious are disastrous consequences: a murdered Border Patrol Agent, his grieving family seeking answers, countless deaths in Mexico, and the souring effect on our relationship with Mexico,” Issa said. “Congress has not just a right, but an obligation to do all that it can to uncover exactly what happened and ensure that it never occurs again. After the Justice Department’s earlier false denial of reckless conduct, the Committee has a duty to pursue all options to gather and evaluate key evidence.”
“I still believe that a settlement, rendering the process of contempt unnecessary, is in the best interest of the Justice Department, Congress, and those most directly affected by Operation Fast and Furious,” Issa added. “I urge Attorney General Holder and President Obama to reconsider their decision to withhold documents that would allow Congress to complete its investigation.”
In addition to GOP leaders Cantor and Boehner, House Republican Policy Committee chairman Rep. Tom Price of Georgia threw his public weight behind the newly passed contempt of Congress resolution for Holder too. “It is deeply disappointing that the Department of Justice refuses to fully cooperate with the Oversight Committee in its ongoing investigation of ‘Fast and Furious.’ Attorney General Holder’s obstructionism can no longer be tolerated by this Congress, so holding him in contempt is absolutely justified,” Price said in a statement. “Chairman Issa and the members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are to be commended for their patient yet methodical pursuit of the truth and their tireless advocacy for justice.”
Oversight committee Republican member Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois said post-vote that “[m]any questions have been left unanswered for too long.”
“For too long Attorney General Holder has demonstrated a lack of accountability and concern,” Walsh said. “Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s family deserves answers, the whistleblowers deserve vindication, and the American people demand someone be held accountable.”
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m.
Holder released a statement indicating he doesn’t plan on budging from his position even though the House oversight committee has found him in contempt. “In recent months, the Justice Department has made unprecedented accommodations to respond to information requests by Chairman Issa about misguided law enforcement tactics that began in the previous administration and allowed illegal guns to be taken into Mexico,” Holder said. “Department professionals have spent countless hours compiling and providing thousands of documents — nearly 8,000 — to Chairman Issa and his committee. My staff has had numerous meetings with congressional staff to try and accommodate these requests and yesterday, I met with Chairman Issa to offer additional internal Department documents and information that would satisfy what he identified as the Committee’s single outstanding question.”
Holder said Issa “has rejected all of these efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation” to instead “use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch.”
“This divisive action does not help us fix the problems that led to this operation or previous ones and it does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer,” Holder said. “It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention.”
UPDATE 5:34 p.m.:
Cummings issued a statement almost identical to Holder’s claims of partisanship.
“What we just witnessed was an extreme, virtually unprecedented action based on election year politics rather than fact,” said Cummings. “Even in the face of an assertion of executive privilege, the Republicans didn’t even pause to consider the law and instead decided to take this extreme step.”
Cummings also tried to take a swipe at Boehner to get him to back down off the contempt charges, arguing he’d be history’s most politically extreme Speaker if he brought the resolution to the floor.
“The House has never held an Attorney General in contempt, and the only precedent for what this Committee did today was in the 1990s when then-Chairman Burton held Janet Reno in contempt. It was so extreme that even then-Speaker Newt Gingrich refused to bring it the floor for a vote. If Speaker Boehner brings this contempt citation to the floor, he will be known as one of the most extreme Speakers in history.”