Holder shows up empty-handed to Issa meeting, chooses path toward contempt of Congress

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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House oversight committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa said Tuesday evening that his committee plans to move forward with contempt of Congress proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday if he fails to produce promised documents before a scheduled 10 a.m. vote.

Issa, Holder, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Pat Leahy, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Deputy Attorney General James Cole met behind closed doors in the Capitol Building at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The meeting was an attempt to work out a plan to postpone a committee vote, scheduled for Wednesday morning, on contempt of Congress proceedings against Holder.

On Monday afternoon, Issa told Holder he needed documents — not a promise of future document production — before he would agree to postpone contempt proceedings. Holder did not come to the meeting with the documents in hand.

“To summarize, he [Holder] came with an offer of a briefing,” Issa said. “We went through the process of what was being offered and responded, as I think we have to, which is the documents that they may choose to give in the future, we need to have before tomorrow.”

That said, Issa said he thinks the “documents necessary to cause a postponement appear to be in their possession,” and he hopes Holder gives them to him tonight.

“If we can evaluate them even partially then that will give us grounds to negotiate a postponement and perhaps a final resolution,” Issa said.

Issa added that he thinks the meeting was nothing more than “a reiterating of positions that we [Issa and Holder] both had in the letters [back and forth over the past week].”

“Our position is give us the documents; their position is give us a briefing, then give us documents supporting their assertion that essentially there was no wrongdoing, and then bring it to a close,” Issa said. “I think we have to — we have to in good conscience — see documents that convince us that it’s time to say it’s sufficient as to the subpoena. We’re willing to do that, but if they have documents they believe makes the case they certainly should give those to us first. We also discussed a log of what we weren’t given — which is normal in these kinds of procedures. We did not make any progress on that, but we also hope to make progress on if there are things that they don’t want to give us, at least tell us what they’re not giving and why.”

Cummings, on the other hand, said he thought the meeting was “very good.”

“He [Holder] offered to — agreed to — provide documents with regard to post Feb. 4,” Cummings said. “He also agreed to provide a substantive briefing on the department’s actions. He also agreed to a request by Sen. Grassley for a description of the categories of documents produced and withheld. He also agreed to entertain substantive follow-up information.”

“All he asked in return was for a good-faith effort to bring this matter to a resolution,” Cummings continued. “He was very clear that answering these subpoenas has taken a substantial amount of time of the attorney general’s office. I have thought — in fact, I have always thought — he has been very reasonable in trying to address this issue. Keep in mind, this effort to subpoena the records from the attorney general is a legitimate duty of our committee. Our committee has — as part of its mission — to investigate. We also have — as part of our mission — to bring about reform when that is appropriate.”

Holder viewed the meeting differently than both Cummings and Issa.

“The deputy attorney general and I came here today in good faith in an attempt to resolve the ongoing dispute that we’ve had with this committee and with Chairman Issa,” Holder said at a rare, unexpected press conference after the meeting.

“We have made, to date, available an unprecedented number of documents, really inconsistent with the way the Justice Department has dealt with many of these matters in the past. We’ve provided deliberative materials to the committee. We’ve laid out plan that might resolve this matter. We have offered to make materials available — documents available —from Feb. 4 – Dec. 2011. We’ve offered to make briefings on those documents, to answer any questions that might come up about those documents being produced.”

“At least as of now, the committee has rejected that proposal,” Holder continued. “It is our hope that we can somehow find a way throughout this. The offer that we made is still there — it’s still standing. It is one of those things, as I’ve said, that the Justice Department has not done previously.”

Issa, though, said the only thing that will halt the contempt vote — scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday — is Holder producing the documents. Even though Holder has missed several of Issa’s established deadlines — including his Monday night deadline of Tuesday morning — Issa said he’s okay with Holder still providing the documents as long as it happens before Wednesday morning’s vote. Cummings even told press that Issa has agreed to keep staff available all night at the Capitol.

“The deadline will always move to very last minute,” Issa said. “We always want to be respectful that if we get the information or any information as to rethink contempt, and make progress on behalf of Brian Terry’s family and the American people, then we will take it. We have no hard deadlines. We do have markups scheduled for tomorrow. If we receive no documents, we’ll go forward. If we receive documents, we’ll evaluate them and we’ll take such time as is necessary and delay to be sure of the quality of these documents so that it is sufficient.”

Issa also said that he hopes President Barack Obama would make Holder comply with the subpoenas.

“We would hope that the president would ask his attorney general to be more cooperative — 31 Democrats asked for more cooperation than we’ve gotten,” Issa said, referencing a letter 31 House Democrats wrote to Obama last year asking him to direct Holder and the Department of Justice to comply with the congressional investigation.

Holder wouldn’t answer whether he’ll provide the documents tonight.

“The ball is in their [Issa’s committee’s] court,” he said when pressed. “They’ve rejected what I think was an extraordinary offer on our part.”

Holder also wouldn’t respond when The Daily Caller asked him to explain how offering to partially comply with a congressional subpoena is “extraordinary.” Issa has told Holder before that there is “nothing extraordinary” about a federal agency or cabinet member fulfilling the obligations of a congressional subpoena.

Other reporters shouted out questions about why Holder didn’t bring documents to the 5 p.m. meeting, and he wouldn’t answer those either.

One reporter asked him if he’s trying to take away Issa’s power to enforce his subpoena. In response, Holder said “no.”

Cummings took a couple of last-second stabs at Issa’s investigation, too, saying he thought Issa “made up his mind before he even walked in the room.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that things have gotten to this point,” he said. “I really do believe that we were on the 1-foot line. We could have gotten this ball across the goal line, but unfortunately that did not happen this evening.”

But, when pushed by the press corps for evidence to back that criticism of Issa, Cummings did not provide any.

“Just the way the conversation went,” Cummings said.

Cummings also said he’s confident the documents won’t show a “cover-up” or “retaliation against whistleblowers.” But, when TheDC asked him how he could come to that conclusion without having read the documents, he replied, “Just based upon — it’s clear, just listening to what the attorney general has said: They have nothing to hide. They want to provide the documents, they want to provide the briefings and that’s what I base that on,” he said.

When a CNN reporter asked Holder if he agrees with Cummings’ charge that Issa already made up his mind, Holder responded saying he thought it was “political gamesmanship” going on here.

Neither Cummings nor Holder have provided any evidence to back up the allegations that this investigation is a “partisan witch hunt.” A spokeswoman for Cummings, when pressed, told TheDC earlier this week that the Cummings does have evidence that this is politically charged. When asked to provide it, that spokeswoman said she’d get back to TheDC later and hung up the phone. She has not gotten back with the evidence she said Cummings has.

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