The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress on Thursday. Holder is the first attorney general in the history of the United States to be held in contempt.
Holder failed to comply with a congressional subpoena related to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal. House oversight committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa served him the subpoena last October — more than half a year ago — and Holder has only provided Congress with 7,600 pages worth of information of the 140,000 pages he said he has identified internally. Many of the submissions were fully redacted or blacked out.
Fast and Furious began under President Barack Obama’s administration. It was a program run out of the Phoenix, Ariz. office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — which is ultimately overseen by Holder’s Department of Justice.
In the program, the Obama administration facilitated the sale of about 2,000 assault weapons to Mexican drug cartel criminals through straw purchasers — a tactic known as gunwalking. The administration intimidated gun-store owners into selling guns to suspected straw purchasers — people who ultimately trafficked the guns into Mexico. The stated goal was to track the weapons with the ultimate target of bringing down bigger fish in the overall arms-trafficking market.
By congressional Democrats’ and the Obama administration’s own admission, Mexico was never informed of what was going on.
After the weapons were allowed to walk, the only way to track them was to find them at crime scenes. It’s widely known that Mexican drug cartel operatives abandon their firearms at the scenes where they use them so that they don’t get caught with the weapons later. With serial numbers and ballistics information from the abandoned firearms, the agents would put together big trafficking cases.
Although guns the U.S. government gave to cartels were used to kill Mexicans, the operation began to unravel when two Fast and Furious firearms were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry on Dec. 15, 2010, in Peck Canyon, Ariz. Terry’s slaying 17 miles inside the United States-Mexico border sparked whistle-blowers from inside the ATF, who were involved with the operation, to come forward and explain what happened. They came to Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa with their story, and he pushed for answers on what went wrong. On Feb. 4, 2011, now-former Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich wrote to Grassley denying that guns were ever walked.
In the months that ensued over the course of 2011, Issa and Grassley worked together with other members of Congress to investigate the allegations. House oversight committee ranking Democratic member Rep. Elijah Cummings promised Terry’s mother he would “not rest” until the truth about Fast and Furious came out and everyone involved was held accountable.
Early in 2011, the National Rifle Association threw its weight behind the congressional investigation and called for Holder’s resignation — despite some recent media reports alleging that the gun lobby group has only just weighed in fight as Holder heads to a likely contempt vote on Thursday.