US Congress finds AG Holder in contempt
Posted on 11 months ago
WASHINGTON (Reuters): Attorney General Eric Holder was found in contempt of Congress on Thursday as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives sanctioned the nation's top law enforcement official for withholding some documents related to a failed gun-running probe.
The mostly partisan vote of 255-67 marked the first time a sitting attorney general and presidential Cabinet member was cited for contempt by the full House. No Senate vote is necessary in this House contempt citation.
Many Democrats refused to cast votes, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led dozens of her colleagues in a walkout from the House floor in protest.
The fight over the Obama administration documents revolves around "Operation Fast and Furious," a federal law enforcement program intended to track weapons sold in Arizona that were suspected of being transported to Mexico for use by violent drug cartels.
In the end, 17 Democrats voted to support the contempt charge, while two Republicans opposed it and 108 Democrats refused to cast votes.
Reacting to the vote, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer called it "a transparently political stunt," despite Justice Department efforts to accommodate Congress.
Holder, in a statement released by the Justice Department, noted that he had ordered an independent investigation of Fast and Furious "as soon as it came to light" and said he "tried to cooperate with the congressional investigation" but was "rebuffed."
With the House vote, Holder said "an unnecessary court conflict will ensue." He called the House investigation "politically-motivated."
The House also voted 258-95 on a resolution asking US courts to force Holder to turn over documents being sought by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as part of its long-running investigation of Fast and Furious. That could lead to a prolonged court fight with an uncertain outcome while a judge weighs the House demand against the Obama administration's claim of executive privilege to protect the documents.
The unprecedented House rebuke of Holder was overshadowed by the US Supreme Court's upholding of Democratic President Barack Obama's controversial healthcare law - a ruling that was reverberating throughout the country.
Nevertheless, the House devoted much of its legislative session on Thursday to a sometimes bitter debate over Holder's role in Fast and Furious.
The Justice Department initially denied that a program was being run that allowed some guns to "walk" into Mexico - a contention it later retracted, raising Republican suspicions.