House Holds Attorney General Eric Holder In Contempt
UPDATE: Holder responded immediately. In a press conference held just minutes after the House vote was taken, Holder defended the "extraordinary steps" he has taken to resolve the matter. While some members of Congress have been "good-faith partners" in the investigation, some have worked to obstruct resolution.
"Others, however, have devoted their time and their attention to making wreckless charges," Holder said. "And to making truly absurd, tuly absurd conspiracy theories."
Members of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress over the "Fast and Furious" scandal after a heated debate Thursday afternoon.
Holder was held in contempt for his refusal to turn over documents, mostly emails and memos, in an ongoing investigation by the House oversight committee into a failed federal gunrunning operation which allowed weapons to slip into criminal hands. This is an unprecedented move against a sitting cabinet member.
President Obama invoked an executive order to protect the communications.
The hearing, which aired on CSPAN, fell largely along party lines. Rep. Darrell Issa took the brunt of Democrats' criticisms. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee offered a resolution which would have put the House on record as condemning Issa's handling of the oversight committee.
A common refrain in speeches from both sides of the aisle was fallen Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in a shootout in 2010. Guns which had been lost from the "gunwalking" operation were found nearby. Republicans maintained they are only seeking answers for Terry's family.
The Congressional Black Caucus staged a planned walk-out during the vote on the contempt charge. Rep. Nancy Pelosi supported the move but said she would remain in the chambers to cast her vote.
According to the New York Times:
Other Democrats might join them. In 2008, when the Democratic-led House cited two Bush administration officials for contempt in a dispute over information related to a mass firing of United States attorneys, many Republicans did likewise. "We’re going to make it clear we’re disappointed with the process and the superficiality with which this matter has been dealt with,” Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, the House minority whip, said Thursday.
A citation for contempt of Congress carries symbolic weight, but its practical impact is limited because the executive branch controls prosecution decisions.
Hoyer also called the contempt charge against Holder a "clear and present danger to this nation."
Some conservatives and gun activists have promoted a conspiracy theory which supposes the failed gun operation was intended to incite public fear against firearms in an attempt to diminish Second Amendment rights, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Fortune published a bombshell investigation just one day before the contempt vote. After reviewing 2,000 confidential ATF documents and interviewing 39 individuals, reporter Katherine Eban concluded the public case against the operation and those involved is "replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies."
Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.
The ATF never "intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels," according to the article.
The contempt charge still has to pass the Senate, which is unlikely.
Follow Neon Tommy's coverage of the "Fast and Furious" here.