Holder heads to Senate as contempt of Congress battle heats up in the House

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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When Attorney General Eric Holder will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he will likely face a barrage of questions about the pending threat of contempt proceedings over what the House oversight committee has called a failure to comply with a subpoena related to Operation Fast and Furious.

Oversight chairman Rep. Darrell Issa announced Monday that he plans to hold a contempt of Congress vote on Holder next Wednesday. Presuming that vote proceeds along party lines, it will make it to the House floor; Speaker John Boehner said almost immediately that he supports contempt proceedings if Holder does not fully comply with the subpoena Issa issued in October 2011.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the judiciary committee’s ranking GOP member, said Monday that he also supports Issa’s push to hold Holder in contempt. Holder’s appearance Tuesday is all but certain to include direct pressure from Grassley and other senators who have been critical of the attorney general over Fast and Furious, including Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Responding to a Fast and Furious-related question from the Fox News Channel’s Ed Henry during his Monday briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney repeated the line of defense that Holder’s Department of Justice has offered publicly, literally reading his answer from a briefing binder.

Asked for “the White House’s view” on pending contempt hearings against Holder, Carney got chuckles from the press corps by mumbling “the White House view…” before opening up the binder and reading aloud.

“The White House view — as you know, Ed — fighting criminal activity along the Southwest border, including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico, remains a priority of this administration,” Carney said. “The attorney general has also made clear that he takes the allegations that have been raised very seriously, and that is why he asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter. It is also why you see the Department cooperating with congressional investigators, including producing 7,600 pages of documents, and including testimony at hours and hours of congressional hearings.”

While Carney is correct that the Office of Inspector General inside the DOJ’s is investigating, and that Holder has provided about 7,600 pages of documents to Congress, those pages are a small fraction of the number he provided to his department’s internal investigator. Issa wrote in early May that Holder has failed to fully comply with all 22 parts of his committee’s subpoena. (RELATED: Full coverage of Operation Fast and Furious)

Left-wing political groups defended their self-described “progressive” attorney general Monday. In a statement, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights CEO Wade Henderson criticized Boehner and Issa for moving forward with contempt proceedings, saying they are “committing a serious disservice to the House and to the American people.”

Without any mention of the word “subpoena,” Henderson claimed Holder has “complied” with Issa’s investigation. Henderson’s spokesman Scott Simpson hasn’t returned The Daily Caller’s request for comment on this omission.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Holder’s second in command, wrote to Issa Monday asking him for a meeting. “I am confident that the two of us, working in good faith, can bring this matter to a close,” Cole wrote.

Cole has made similar overtures to Boehner in recent weeks, ultimately leading to New York Times reporter Charlie Savage writing, incorrectly, that Boehner was trying to cut a deal with Holder. The story has since been edited and Savage has conceded that he violated the Times’ ethics code.

It was the Department of Justice, not Republican leaders, who were floating the suggestion of a compromise. Savage later admitted he failed to ask Boehner’s office to comment, making it likely that his story developed as the result of a pitch from Holder’s team.

DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson that Holder believes the contempt of Congress proposition is a political game. “From the beginning, Chairman Issa has distorted the facts, ignored testimony and flung inaccurate accusations at the Attorney General and others, and this latest move fits within that tired political playbook that has so many Americans disillusioned with Washington,” Schmaler said.

Contempt appears all but certain to pass out of Issa’s committee, although The Hill newspaper reported in late May that Issa “might not have the votes to push forward.” Since the announcement Monday of a deadline for Holer’s compliance with the subpoena, however, more House oversight committee members have affirmed their support.

New York Republican Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle said on Monday that Holder “is in Contempt of Congress and I will vote ‘Aye’ without reservation during next week’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting.”

Buerkle is one of 16 GOP members on Issa’s committee who had already confirmed a “yes” vote to The Hill on contempt of Congress. Issa needs 21 such votes to pass the resolution to the full House.

Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner also threw his weight behind the contempt resolution Monday. “If the attorney general does not provide the documents as requested by the time of Wednesday’s vote, I will join my colleagues in voting in favor of the contempt resolution.”

Of those GOP members of Issa’s committee who hadn’t previously confirmed a “yes” vote, most have been openly critical of Holder’s performance related to Operation Fast and Furious. Reps. Connie Mack and Tim Walberg have called for Holder’s resignation. Rep. Pat Meehan, a former prosecutor, has expressed frustration on numerous occasions with Holder’s failure to produce documents demanded by the subpoena. And a spokesman for Rep. Justin Amash told The Daily Caller that the congressman had been calling for Holder’s resignation “for months now.”

Reps. Frank Guinta and Todd Platts haven’t made their opinions known, but since the GOP holds a six-seat advantage in the committee, their votes may not be needed for passage.

Issa also said Monday that he ultimately expects “about 31 Democrats” in the full House to join him in a bipartisan effort to hold Holder in contempt. That statement was a reference to a letter 31 Democratic congressmen wrote to President Barack Obama in June 2011, asking him to direct Holder and the DOJ to comply with the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious.

One of those Democrats, Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, sits on Issa’s committee. It’s unclear how Cooper will vote next Wednesday. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

One of the other Democrats who signed that letter, Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, split from his party line recently and voiced support for Issa’s efforts to enforce the committee’s subpoena of Holder — efforts that would include contempt of Congress. Many other Democrat signatories have criticized Holder over Fast and Furious, an indication Issa may find the support he needs.

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