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US House of Representatives holds Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress

June 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The US House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress Thursday.

Holder was cited for refusal to meet Republican demands to hand over documents in an investigation into tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled from Arizona to Mexico.

Eric Holder is the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt. A separate vote will be held to hold the attorney general in civil contempt.

A number of Democrats boycotted Thursday's vote, including Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-Calif.).

Technically there could be a federal criminal case against Holder, but history strongly suggests the matter won't get that far.

Holder said Thursday the contempt vote was a politically motivated act in an election year. He said that Rep. Darrell Issa, who leads the House committee investigating a flawed gun-smuggling investigation, and others have focused on politics over public safety.

Issa subpoenaed documents and the attorney general says he made an offer to settle the dispute that Issa rebuffed.

A House of Representatives committee voted to Holder in contempt last Wednesday for failing to turn over Justice Department documents related to the flawed Operation Fast and Furious.

Hours before last Wednesday's committee vote, President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege for the first time to withhold the documents after Holder formally requested presidential intervention.

"We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the Committee's concerns and to accommodate the Committee's legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious," deputy attorney general James Cole wrote to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House oversight and Government Reform Committee before the vote was held.

The documents are at the center of the standoff between Holder and Issa, who called the president's action "an untimely" assertion of the privilege.

At issue are about 1,300 pages of documents from February to December 2011 that detail the Department of Justice's communications following a DOJ letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that falsely claimed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made every effort to stop guns from going to Mexico after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's death was linked to guns from the ATF operation. In an effort to possibly find a cover-up within the administration, Issa is seeking documents on how DOJ reacted as the gun scandal unfolded between February and December 2011.

Holder claims the Justice Department has provided "extraordinary" access to documents and administration officials to answer questions about the incident.

During the committee's year-and-a-half-long investigation, the department has turned over 7,600 documents about the conduct of the Fast and Furious operation. However, because Justice initially told the committee falsely the operation did not use a risky investigative technique known as gun-walking, the panel has turned its attention from the details of the operation and is now seeking documents that would show how the department headquarters responded to the committee's investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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