William LaJeunesse and Chad Pergram
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has approved a resolution holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The measure now goes to the full House.
ORIGINAL STORY …
Rep. Darrell Issa pressed ahead with a committee vote Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, despite an eleventh-hour move by President Obama to assert executive privilege over the Fast and Furious documents at the heart of the dispute.
The announcement touched off a caustic debate on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that lasted well into the afternoon, as Democrats accused Issa of prosecuting a “political witch hunt” and Republicans stepped up their criticism of Holder’s “stonewalling” over the Fast and Furious probe. Even for Washington, the tone at the hearing was decidedly bitter and accusatory.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was first informed of the president’s decision to assert executive privilege in a letter Wednesday morning, shortly before the contempt vote was scheduled.
Issa said committee staff are evaluating the letter but described the move as too little, too late as he and other GOP lawmakers questioned the basis for the assertion.
“This untimely assertion by the Justice Department falls short of any reason to delay today’s proceedings,” Issa said.
The chairman said, “We and the American people need answers sooner, not later.”
Lawmakers on the panel reconvened Wednesday afternoon following a brief recess, with a vote on the contempt resolution presumably still on the table for later in the day. Lawmakers first took up, and voted down, several Democratic amendments to the contempt resolution. They did, however, approve a GOP amendment designating Obama’s executive privilege claim as inappropriate.
The debate over the amendments capped an intense debate in which virtually every lawmaker on the committee weighed in.
Democrats roundly voiced disappointment with the proceedings, describing them as politically motivated and avoidable. They pleaded with Issa to seriously consider Obama’s executive privilege claim — the first Obama has asserted — and some said Holder was being punished for withholding internal documents he shouldn’t be turning over anyway.
Republicans praised Issa for pressing ahead, describing the vote as entirely unavoidable considering the department’s alleged refusal to cooperate. They frequently invoked the name of Brian Terry — Fast and Furious-linked guns were found at the murder scene of the Border Patrol agent. And Issa indicated he was waiting for a more detailed explanation from the White House, and a letter from Obama himself, before even considering changing course based on the executive privilege claim.
Issa also accused the Justice Department of trying to compel the committee to close its investigation in exchange for documents it hasn’t yet seen. “I can’t accept that deal. No other committee chairman would,” he said.
But Issa’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., fired back that Holder never made such a demand — a Justice official also refuted Issa’s claim — and said the attorney general had come to the committee in “good faith” to try and work out an agreement.
Cummings said the upcoming contempt vote has “diminished” the prestige of the panel. “For the past year, you’ve been holding the attorney general to an impossible standard,” he said, addressing Issa. “Mr. Chairman, it did not have to be this way. It really didn’t.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., added that she was “horrified” by the panel’s looming vote, calling it a “political witch hunt” and accusing Republicans of “overruling” the president.
If the vote proceeds, Republicans have more than enough votes on committee to pass the contempt resolution. However, Holder would not be considered held in contempt of Congress unless and until the full House approves the measure.
The move by Holder and Obama to lock down some requested documents only complicates the fight over the botched anti-gunrunning operation between the legislative and executive branches.
After Holder made the request to Obama via letter on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote to Issa, R-Calif., on Wednesday informing him that the president has granted the request.
“We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee’s legitimate oversight interests regarding Operation Fast and Furious,” Cole wrote. “Although we are deeply disappointed that the committee appears intent on proceeding with a contempt vote, the department remains willing to work with the committee to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the outstanding issues.”
Obama’s decision pertains to documents from February 2011 and afterward examining how Justice officials learned about the Fast and Furious probe.
Holder, in his letter to Obama requesting he assert executive privilege, said those documents pertain to the “deliberative process” on how to respond to congressional and media inquiries.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer slammed committee Republicans later Wednesday, saying in a statement that: “Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition.”
Wednesday’s developments follow a flurry of activity Tuesday, as Holder tried to negotiate a way to avert the contempt proceedings. Issa had earlier indicated a willingness to postpone the vote after Holder indicated a willingness to make compromises and supply some documents in response to House Republicans’ subpoena.
But Issa told reporters after a roughly 20-minute meeting with Holder Tuesday that the attorney general instead briefed them on the documents in lieu of delivering them.
Issa told Fox News that Holder didn’t provide “anything in writing.”
Issa further said during the committee meeting Wednesday that the purpose of the probe “has never been to hold the attorney general in contempt.” He said the committee had an aide on Capitol Hill all night in the hope that the Justice Department might send over documents to the panel.
The failed Fast and Furious operation attempted selling thousands of guns to arms dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border to trace them to leaders of drug cartels. However, many of them showed up in crime scenes.
Congressional investigators have been trying to determine if and when high-level Justice officials knew about problems with the operation.
After a day in which their son’s name was repeatedly invoked, Terry’s parents Josephine and Kent Terry also released a statement Wednesday afternoon expressing disappointment with the administration’s latest actions.
“Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy. It denies the Terry family and the American people the truth,” they said.
The Department of Justice has adamantly defended its response. Holder said Issa rejected what he thought was “an extraordinary offer.” Holder called for the Capitol Hill meeting late Monday in a possible attempt to make a deal with Issa and avoid the contempt vote.
“We offered the documents that we thought would resolve the subpoenas,” he said. “The ball is in their court.”
The contempt vote in the oversight committee will likely pass considering Republicans outnumber Democrats 22 to 16.
GOP House leadership has given Issa the green light to proceed how he sees fit, sources told Fox News, which suggests the vote would reach the House floor.
Issa had demanded to see a trove of documents on the controversial Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation. He also wants to know who prepared a now-retracted letter from Feb. 4, 2011, in which the department claimed the U.S. did not knowingly help smuggle guns to Mexico, including those found where Terry was killed.
Issa wrote back to Holder later Monday requesting he deliver roughly 1,300 documents pertaining to the Feb. 4 letter. The letter also stated Holder needed to deliver a description of all the documents he will not produce.
Related: From last night and this morning:
And, at Instapundit:
HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE FINDS HOLDER IN CONTEMPT OF CONGRESS. “House GOP Leaders says they’ll hold contempt citation vote on Atty Gen Holder next week unless he supplies documents at issue,” Mark Knoller of CBS adds on Twitter.
More here, and from Allahpundit of Hot Air, who writes, “Next stop: The House floor for a vote by the full chamber. The Hill seems unsure about how many GOP votes it’ll get, but c’mon. Even recalcitrant Republicans who think a court battle with The One is a needless distraction have no choice but to go to the mat for Issa now that O’s pulled his power play with executive privilege.”
J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS: Executive Privilege Kicks Off Regular Season:
President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege today is a bit like the kickoff for the NFL regular season. It doesn’t end the Fast and Furious scandal; it just takes it to another level. Everything so far was the pre-season. Now people will start to pay attention.
A president doesn’t assert executive privilege lightly. It is a relic from the powers of the king. Some things were not for parliament’s eyes, such as national security statecraft. This new phase of the Fast and Furious scandal begins with Americans who had paid no attention to the scandal hearing the news today and asking, “what are they trying to hide?”
Indeed. Read the whole thing.
WHITE HOUSE ASSERTS EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE OVER DOJ FAST AND FURIOUS DOCUMENTS. At the PJ Media Tatler, Bryan Preston has a long, continually updated post, plus this: Video Flashback: Obama Claims He Learned of Fast and Furious ‘On the News,’ But Before AG Holder.
Posted by Ann Althouse at 11:56 AM
“Six Hundred newspapers would blare Fast and Furious on the front page every day if Bush were in office. President Obama has managed to win office while the NYT and Wash Post are still in business, and can carry the water for him. They will be gone soon, but for now, this will be a 2 day story, ‘nothing to see here, keep it moving.’”
So says Fprawl, in the Fast and Furious/Executive Privilege thread.
Posted by Ann Althouse at 10:50 AM
And, for what it’s worth, Sheila Jackson Lee: This F&F debacle started under Bush
Update 2: Here is every CAJ article published to date tagged with “Operation Fast and Furious.” If you want to find articles in which President George W. Bush is mentioned, search our tags for “Wide Receiver” , and within the Fast and Furious tags you can look for President Bush’s name.