House Republicans are on track to hold the first Black attorney general Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The House Oversight and Government Reform committee voted 23-17 down party lines in favor of contempt for Holder after protracted hearings over the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal. The vote of the full House is expected in the coming week.
Unlike the movie franchise, the “Fast and Furious” investigation has nothing to do with fancy cars. In 2006, the federal government began undercover operation under then President George W. Bush to allow criminals to buy guns that would then be tracked by the Agency of Tobacco and Firearms in an effort to curtail drug related violence in Mexico. The operation was botched and the government’s “gunrunning” operation resulted in the tracked guns being used in criminal activities and ultimately in the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry.
Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been convinced that there was a cover up by the Obama administration after the botched operation and Terry’s death and his committee has issued subpoenas and questioned the attorney general relentlessly to no avail. A request by Congressman Issa for additional documents Wednesday, forced the president to finally assert executive privilege because the requested documents were not specifically related to the “Fast and Furious” operation and could potentially contain privileged information related to the operational tactics of the Department of Justice.
Holder submitted an official request to the White House to ask that they assert the privilege citing the fact that, “[t]he documents "were not generated in the course of the conduct of Fast and Furious. Instead, they were created after the investigative tactics at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation.” Essentially, Holder and the White House are making a separation of powers argument and claiming that it’s dangerous for the Congress to be given access to and make public details of secret operations and deliberations that could do harm by allowing actual criminals inside information into the Justice Department’s operations.
If Attorney General Holder is held in contempt next week by the full Republican lead House it would be unprecedented. Holder would be the first cabinet member in the history of the United States to be found in contempt of Congress. Holder has called the contempt votes “political theatre.” It turns out even members of the Republican leadership agree and think that Issa’s investigation has gone too far. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) actually worked to have Issa’s contempt vote in committee postponed, potentially fearful that Issa’s feckless witch hunt into “Fast and Furious” had crossed the line.
It remains to be seen just how far House Republicans are willing to go and it will be interesting over the next week to see whether Republican leadership balks yet again at the optics of holding the first Black attorney general in contempt of Congress over a cooked up scandal while most Americans are focused on jobs and the economy.