The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal and civil contempt of Congress over the failed federal gunrunning Operation “Fast and Furious,” largely voting along party lines though several Democrats joined Republicans on each measure. A sitting attorney general never has been held in contempt by Congress.
Many Democrats walked out in protest and did not vote.
Lawmakers passed the criminal contempt resolution 255-67 with 17 Democrats supporting and later approved the civil contempt proposal 258-95 with 21 Democrats breaking ranks.
Two Republicans — Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia and Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette — voted against the criminal contempt resolution.
The criminal contempt charges will now go to the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., who is a subordinate of Holder. The civil contempt resolution will allow the House to go to court in an effort to force Holder to turn over documents the Oversight Committee wants.
In past cases, courts have been hesitant to settle disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government. Further, the House is unlikely to get the documents anytime soon anyway, because President Obama has invoked a broad form of executive privilege, which protects from disclosure internal documents from executive branch agencies.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee release the following statement following the House votes:
Today, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his continued refusal to produce relevant documents in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious. This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.
My message to my colleagues and others who have fought for answers: We are still fighting for the truth and accountability – for the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, for whistleblowers who have faced retaliation, and for countless victims of Operation Fast and Furious in Mexico. Unless President Obama relents to this bipartisan call for transparency and an end to the cover-up, our fight will move to the courts where we will prevail in getting the documents that the Justice Department and President Obama’s flawed assertion of executive privilege have denied the American people.
Holder also released a statement after the House voted to hold him in contempt, saying Republicans have advanced “truly absurd conspiracy theories” to advance the politically motivated vote. Here’s some of what the attorney general had to say:
Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided – and politically motivated – investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety. Instead of trying to correct the problems that led to a series of flawed law enforcement operations, and instead of helping us find ways to better protect the brave law enforcement officers, like Agent Brian Terry, who keep us safe – they have led us to this unnecessary and unwarranted outcome.
Watch the attorney general deliver his entire statement here:
In a memorable call-to-arms before the vote, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) — practically screaming — asked Democrats who stood in opposition to the contempt measure, “What percentage of the truth will you settle for?”
“If you have ever sat on the other side of the table from parents who have lost a loved one: is 50 percent enough? Is that enough of the documents? 75 percent? A third?” Gowdy cotinued. “The truth, the whole truth, so help me God. That’s what we ask witnesses to do, thats what we ask jurors to do and that’s not too much for us to ask the Attorney General of the United States of America to do.”
In a straight forward address on the House floor, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) explained why he ultimately decided to bring the contempt charges before the full House and urged lawmakers to accept the resolution:
“The Justice Department did not provide the facts and the information we requested,” he said. “The only recourse left for the House is to continue seeking the truth and to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress… No Justice Department is above the Constitution.”
House Republicans repeatedly mentioned slain U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry and his family’s right to get answers from the federal government regarding Fast and Furious.
The debate over whether Holder should be held in contempt was contentious and at times, it was downright fiery. House Democrats said they agree gun-walking is wrong and Fast and Furious was disastrous but Republicans need to leave the attorney general out of it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doubled down on comments she made last week and once again argued that Republicans could be attacking Holder because he is fighting “voter suppression” and is at odds with them concerning immigration policy. It “could be a coincidence,” she said. “Or maybe it isn’t.”
“The more baseless the charge, the higher up they want to go with the contempt,” Pelosi said, shaking her head. “I have always made it habit not to question the motivations of other people.”
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said today’s vote was “the day of reckoning” for Holder and the Obama administration.
“What are they hiding?” he asked. “Even the attorney general can not evade the law… Today is judgment day, and that’s just the way it is.”
Prior to the vote, Issa said the scope of contempt charges is narrow and only refers to the misleading statements provided to Congress in February of 2011, not to Holder or his administration’s level of involvement.
However, Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-Md.) said the contempt charges facing Holder represented a “failure of house leadership, a failure of our Constitutional obligations and a failure of our responsibilities to the American people.” He argued that even Issa admitted there was no evidence that Holder knew about the tactics of Fast and Furious or proof of a DOJ cover-up.
“It’s about the attorney general’s refusal to turn over documents not whether or not it was his lieutenants or he that was personally involved in Fast and Furious,” Issa reiterated.
The historic vote was taken just hours after the Supreme Court upheld nearly all of Obamacare, including the individual mandate.
“This isn’t about getting to the truth, this is about politics,” Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said. “This is about doing whatever it takes to attack the Obama administration.”
The Congressional Black Caucus also made good on their threat to stage a walkout in protest during the contempt vote, causing quite a ruckus, however, the majority Democrats also participated.
In Fast and Furious, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of the tactic known as “gun-walking” was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers who long had eluded prosecution and to dismantle their networks, however, the weapons were lost.
Congressional investigators want to see internal Justice Department communications that occurred after February 4, 2011, when the Obama administration falsely told Congress that guns were not allowed to “walk” to Mexico.
Fast and Furious had been shut down by the time of the false information, investigators want documents showing deliberations during the 10 months it took for the administration to acknowledge the error.
Watch the House conduct the historic and unprecedented vote to hold the sitting attorney general of the United States in criminal contempt of Congress while Democrats storm out of the chambers:
According to Fox News, these are the members of Congress who did not side with their respective parties:
Democrats who voted for contempt:
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.
Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla.
Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa
Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky.
Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.
A total of 108 Democrats did not vote. Only one Republican did not vote. One lawmaker, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., also voted present.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story is breaking and updates will be added.