The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over his failure to provide Congress with subpoenaed Operation Fast and Furious documents.
Seventeen Democrats joined most House Republicans in the effort to hold Holder in contempt. Two Republicans — Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell and Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette — voted against the measure and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led a walkout of many members of her caucus.
Pelosi held the hand of House oversight committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings — one of Holder’s most ardent defenders — on the way out.
Holder is now in criminal contempt of Congress.
UPDATE 5:30 p.m.: The House has passed a resolution to hold Holder in civil contempt of Congress as well, again with bipartisan support. The civil contempt resolution allows the House to pursue legal recourse to enforce its subpoena because the criminal contempt resolution passed earlier in the day is referred to Holder’s deputy Ron Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for enforcement. Machen isn’t expected to enforce it.
House judiciary committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith said in a statement that the “vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress is unprecedented, but unfortunately so are the obstructionist actions of this Justice Department.”
“The Attorney General continues to put himself above the law by refusing to cooperate with legitimate congressional inquiries,” Smith said. “For more than a year and a half, this Administration has blocked inquiries and delayed responses about what really happened in Operation Fast & Furious. The President’s recent assertion of Executive Privilege covers communication between top Executive staff. The Administration cannot claim that top officials were not aware of the program and then assert this privilege. They can’t have it both ways. Either no senior staff was aware of Fast & Furious, in which case Executive Privilege does not apply; or senior staff was aware, which means the Administration has not been truthful with Congress.”
Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh — one of the House members demanding Holder’s resignation — said in a statement that it’s “regretful that it has reached this point.
“Questions have been dodged and left unanswered for way too long,” Walsh said. “Attorney General Holder’s lack of cooperation, accountability, and concern in this investigation is unacceptable. The bottom line is that many lives were lost – on both sides of the border. Today’s vote brings us one step closer to providing answers to Brian Terry’s family and the American people.”
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who’s worked with House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, said in a statement that this action was necessary to make sure Holder complies with the subpoena.
“When a person dies in service to his country, and his own government may have contributed to his death, covered up evidence about the circumstances, or both, the survivors’ families and the American people have a right to know the truth,” Grassley said. “That was the case with Pat Tillman, and it’s the case with Brian Terry. The government should own up to any policies and practices that led to the harm of Mexican citizens as well. Those who don’t seem to want the truth or accountability default to accusations of political motivation against those seeking answers.”
“Remember, the Justice Department insisted there was no gun-walking, then retracted that statement and reversed itself,” Grassley continued. “The Justice Department is proven unreliable on this topic. The only way to try to get an accurate, complete account of what happened to Agent Terry and why is to obtain every possible record and account of the facts. We can only draw fair, informed conclusions from the complete facts. The fulfillment of the House’s pursuit of complete records from the Justice Department is necessary. Without it, we might never know what happened to Agent Terry. That can’t stand.”