Why the contempt vote against Holder matters

AWR Hawkins, Ph.D. Conservative Writer
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On June 28, while most people were still trying to wrap their minds around the Obamacare decision, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Seventeen Democrats and every Republican but two voted for the charges because of Holder’s ongoing refusal to comply with the congressional investigation into Fast and Furious. Holder is the first attorney general ever to be held in contempt.

But what exactly does this vote mean, and what exactly will this vote do?

The immediate effect of the vote was to bring those Democrats who are critical of Holder into the public eye, and have them go on record regarding Holder’s contemptuous actions. In the future, Republicans can use those Democrats’ votes to undercut the claim that this is a GOP witch-hunt or a partisan, election-year stunt.

The contempt vote also builds momentum for Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other members of Congress to keep going until they uncover the whole truth behind Fast and Furious and the associated death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. We’ve already seen this momentum in the form of timely post-contempt news about Issa’s possession of “secret wiretaps” of Justice Department discussions about Fast and Furious.

Lastly, the vote undermines any credibility that Holder might, for whatever reason, still have possessed. It does this by showing the judgment was bipartisan, and that it came in the wake of more than a year of stonewalling on Holder’s part and more than one or two desperate, last-second attempts to delay the vote by the Obama administration.

You’ll recall how the president attempted to use “executive privilege” to stop the investigation in its tracks (and do away with any contempt vote). Yet in retrospect, it appears that that move only succeeded in convincing doubters that perhaps Holder & Co. had something to hide after all. Moreover, the momentum of the successful contempt vote may actually bolster a court challenge to Obama’s “executive privilege” claim on Fast and Furious documents.

Unfortunately, the contempt charge against Holder does not carry a criminal penalty. He has not been handcuffed and frog-marched to a holding cell the way anyone else who oversaw an operation like Fast and Furious would have been.

However, the contempt vote can be followed with the pursuit of a court order for the documents Holder has refused to provide to Congress. If this happens and Holder refuses to comply, he will face contempt of court charges, which do carry criminal penalties he can’t just shrug off.

Holder thinks that Issa won’t go through the hassle of filing a lawsuit to get the process rolling on a court order.

Here’s to hoping Holder is wrong.

AWR Hawkins is a conservative columnist who has written extensively on political issues for HumanEvents.com, Pajamas Media, Townhall.com, and Andrew Breitbart’s BigPeace.com, BigHollywood.com, BigGovernment.com, and BigJournalism.com. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. military history from Texas Tech University, and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in the summer of 2010. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.