After hours of deliberation, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday voted 23-17 in favor of holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Not even an eleventh-hour move by the Obama administration to grant Holder executive privilege concerning “Fast and Furious” documents could prevent the committee vote as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and other lawmakers pushed forward in their pursuit for the truth in their investigation into the failed federal gunrunning operation.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) introduced an amendment, which passed, that made sure that the record stated that the committee was aware of Obama’s decision to assert executive privilege and they proceeded with the vote anyway.
A contempt report is ordered to be given to the U.S. House of Representatives for their review, Issa said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced in a press release shortly after the vote that the measure will be voted on by a full House next week. Lawmakers will be back on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
“While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week. If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue,” the release said.
Issa also released a statement after the hearing and said the contempt vote was not the outcome he was hoping for – he would have rather Holder just turn over the documents he asked for. He also referenced Obama’s decision to invoke executive privilege, which he says caught them by surprise.
“This was not the outcome I had hoped for and today’s proceeding would not have occurred had Attorney General Eric Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide,” Issa’s statement reads.
“The President’s assertion of Executive Privilege this morning took us by surprise but did not alter the Committee’s conclusion that documents had been inappropriately withheld. Executive Privilege only applies to materials that directly pertain to communications with the President and his senior advisors. This assertion indicates that the White House’s role in Operation Fast and Furious and the response to whistleblower accusations has been greater than previously acknowledged.”
Following the committee hearing, Issa explains the contempt vote here and why President Obama’s executive privilege play will not stop the proceedings:
Holder slammed Issa and the House Oversight Committee for voting to hold him in contempt in his own statement saying, “The American people deserve better”:
In recent months, the Justice Department has made unprecedented accommodations to respond to information requests by Chairman Issa about misguided law enforcement tactics that began in the previous administration and allowed illegal guns to be taken into Mexico…I met with Chairman Issa to offer additional internal Department documents and information that would satisfy what he identified as the Committee’s single outstanding question.
Unfortunately, Chairman Issa has rejected all of these efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation. Instead, he has chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch. This divisive action does not help us fix the problems that led to this operation or previous ones and it does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer. It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention — and, as a result — has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people.
Watch the historic vote here:
The decision to press ahead with contempt charges against the sitting attorney general is significant. Officials said the House of Representatives has never held an attorney general in contempt. However, the contempt resolution will have to pass the House in order for proceedings to continue.
Fox News reports that if the contempt report passes the House, Boehner would send the facts to the U.S. Attorney, who would then convene a Grand Jury to review the document and call witnesses if they choose. Following the proceedings, the Grand Jury would decide whether or not to indict Holder.
If indicted, Holder would face a criminal prosecution and a trial would likely occur. Ultimately it would be a jury that decides whether Holder is guilty of contempt or not.
“Our purpose has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt. Our purpose has always been to get the information the committee needs to complete its work that it is not only entitled to but obligated to do,” Issa said prior to the vote. “If the Justice Department had delivered the documents they freely admitted they could deliver, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) was one of the few that came to Holder’s defense before the committee voted. He argued that even if the contempt vote went through – and it did – Holder would still cooperate with investigators. Meanwhile, Issa isn’t so sure.
“And There’s something going on here that really should bother all of us. And that is, is that, you know, we do have an attorney general who just like we did, sweared [sic] to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” he said.
“And there seems to be a presumption that when certain privileges are asserted, certain concerns are raised by that attorney general with regard to deliberate, deliberative documents…traditionally been privileged that suddenly he has to be hiding something, that he has t be dishonest. And I think we do have to respect the separation of powers here.”
A few moments later he added, “I don’t think he’s hiding a damn thing.”
Cummings also argued that Holder has pledged to continue to working with the House committee regardless of what happens with the contempt vote, however, he was cut off by Issa for making seemingly misleading comments.
“Do you recall yesterday that he said that if we vote contempt that’s the end of it, that there will be no more cooperation?” Issa asked.
Deflecting, Cummings replied, “(inaudible) I don’t remember him saying that. I think in a heated moment – and I’ve got to tell you Mr. Chairman, sometimes sitting in a meeting with you can be rough.” In a heated moment…”
“Yesterday I didn’t think was particularly heated,” Issa interjected.
“See you thought it wasn’t heated, I did. It was very heated. I think he said something to the effect that it would be, things would be difficult,” Cummings said.
Cummings added that “after having a night to rest over it,” Holder has changed his mind and still would like to work with Congress. And as he has done many times before, he also said Fast and Furious is proof that the U.S. needs stricter gun laws.
“I think some people really screwed up,” Cummings said. “But I don’t think people were trying to obstruct, trying to cover up.”
This is a breaking story and updates will be added.