Later today, the U.S. House of Representatives will take part in an unprecedented and historic vote where they will decide whether a sitting attorney general will face contempt of Congress charges for the first time in American history. The significance of such action cannot be understated.
Attorney General Eric Holder is accused of withholding numerous subpoenaed documents related to the failed federal gunrunning operation dubbed "Fast and Furious." The contempt charges along with the investigation into the reckless program have sparked a heated political debate nationwide and have been referred to by supporters of Holder and the Obama administration as "political theater" and the result of unfounded conspiracy theories.
But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has been one of the operation's toughest critics, told The Blaze in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that for him, Fast and Furious is anything but a political exercise.
"To me it's about truth and justice," he said. "After meeting with the Brian Terry family and looking his mother in the eyes and shaking her hand, I feel a duty and obligation to them. And I think it's sad and disgusting that there are people who think these are merely political points we are trying to put up on the scoreboard."
Chaffetz also expressed sorrow over the lives of roughly 200 Mexican citizens that were lost as a result of Fast and Furious. And just before the congressional showdown, he sat down with The Blaze to make his case as to why the attorney general of the United States should be found in contempt of Congress at today's House hearing.
"Flat Out Misled Congress"
Congress has been "exceptionally patient" with the Department of Justice when it comes to the Fast and Furious investigation, but the agency still has not complied with a Congressional subpoena and provided the requested documents, Chaffetz explained. And while Holder and his administration regularly cite the roughly 7,800 documents they have turned over, that is out of more than 140,000 documents -- less than 18 percent.
Further, many of the documents the DOJ allowed Congress to review relate to the Bush-era gun-tracing operation "Wide Receiver" not Fast and Furious, according to Chaffetz.
"You don't get to pick and choose," he said. "There are 22 categories in the subpoena and they are expected to comply with all of them."
In addition to withholding key information, specifically a subset of post-Februrary 4 documents, Chaffetz says officials involved in operation Fast and Furious have misled Congress on multiple occasions, regardless of whether or not it was intentional.
He pointed to a letter written to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Feb. 4, 2011 from the Justice Department that called accusations of an operation sanctioned by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) involving gun-walking "false." The letter also said ATF makes every effort to "interdict" weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico, seemingly denying any gunrunning operation was taking place.
After the Fast and Furious scandal broke, the letter was withdrawn by the agency (Read the full letter here). Some investigators, like Chaffetz, want to know why Congress has been repeatedly given misleading information, such as the aforementioned letter and a statement made by Holder that alleged former Attorney General Michael Mukasey knew about gun-walking during the Bush administration. The statement was retracted earlier this month due to its inaccuracy.
"They flat-out misled Congress," Chaffetz said. "There are consequences for that."
Still, the congressman from Utah says there is no evidence to prove Holder or anyone else in the Obama administration had foreknowledge of the tactics used in Fast and Furious or that wrongdoing occurred and that is not what he is hoping to prove. However, everything remains speculation until the truth is revealed, which he says lies in the subpoenaed documents.
"One of the best aspects of this country is that no one person is above the law," Chaffetz told The Blaze. "I take the Constitution and the separation of powers very seriously and when you have a duly issued subpoena, you can't ignore it. If you or I ignore it, we probably wind up in jail."
President Obama and "Executive Privilege"
Members of Congress were "shocked" after President Obama asserted executive privilege over Fast and Furious documents hours before a scheduled contempt vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, Chaffetz said. He also called Obama's move "overly broad" and argued there are documents that do not fall under the scope of executive privilege that the committee is requesting.
Members of the House committee and representatives of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with White House officials yesterday to strike a last-minute deal to prevent the contempt vote from occurring on Thursday. No such deal was reached; however, Press Secretary Jay Carney argued lawmakers were offered "unprecedented access" to DOJ documents relating to Fast and Furious during the meeting but refused to negotiate.
Chaffetz called Carney's assertion "factually incorrect and misleading" and said Congress was offered only 30 documents that the DOJ claimed summarized some of the documents they were after.
"We want to fix this so that it never happens again. We want to find out who needs to be held accountable, who approved it, who signed off on it and we want to know why there has been an apparent orchestrated effort to conceal things from Congress," Chaffetz added. "There will be crimes committed for years to come as a result of Fast and Furious."
A Bipartisan Crusade?
Despite the partisan divide that appears to be plaguing Capitol Hill, Chaffetz is optimistic that more Democrats will put politics aside and join Republicans in uncovering the truth in Fast and Furious.
He said 31 Democrats sent a letter to the White House more than a year ago telling the Obama administration to be more forthcoming in the investigation and a report Wednesday revealed that several Democrats would likely vote yes for contempt charges against Holder.
The House will hold two separate votes at today's session, one for criminal contempt charges and another vote that will enable a civil case to be pursued against Holder. A positive vote for criminal charges would send the case to the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., who is under Holder. The civil contempt resolution would allow the House to go to court in an bid to force Holder to hand over documents the Oversight committee seeks.
Either way, lawmakers are unlikely to get their hands on the documents anytime soon after Obama asserted executive privilege and probable court proceedings lie ahead. Even so, Chaffetz promises the search for the truth will march on.
The full House will start legislative business at around 12 p.m. ET where debate will likely go on for hours before the vote occurs, a spokesperson for Chaffetz's said.
You can watch Congressman Chaffetz and Holder tussle in a previous hearing regarding Fast and Furious, below: