(WASHINGTON) — A congressional committee voted on Wednesday to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to provide documents to congressional investigators from the Fast and Furious gun walking operation. Earlier Wednesday morning, the White House invoked executive privilege over the documents the committee subpoenaed more than eight months ago.
In a strictly party-line vote, the House committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the citation 23 to 17, sending it on to the full House for future consideration as early as next week. Holder is not actually in contempt of Congress unless the full House approves the resolution, but he would become the first U.S. attorney general held in contempt of Congress if the vote passes.
At issue are about 1300 pages of documents from February 2011 to December 2011 that detail the Department of Justice’s communications following a DOJ letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that falsely claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made every effort to stop guns from going to Mexico after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s death was linked to guns from the ATF operation. In an effort to possibly find a cover-up within the administration, Issa is seeking documents on how DOJ reacted as the gun scandal unfolded between February and December 2011.
Tuesday Holder made a last-ditch effort to avoid the contempt proceedings, making a rare visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Issa and other top lawmakers. But his offer to have the Justice Department brief the lawmakers on the information in the documents was rejected by Issa.
Members on both sides of the aisle called the need for contempt proceedings “a sad day” for Congress and the American people, and Democrats repeatedly decried what they view as a “political witch-hunt” against President Obama during an election year.
“I am astounded that today we are sitting here weighing whether to hold the attorney general of the United States, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in our country, in contempt of Congress,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said. “It shouldn’t be a political witch hunt against the attorney general of our country and our president in an election year.”
But after eight months of refusal to comply with the committee’s subpoena, Republicans on the panel charged that the administration was running out the clock on Congress and said that the assertion of executive privilege opens up even more questions about who knew what and when.
The full House of Representatives is expected to consider the contempt resolution as soon as next Tuesday.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eric Bradner, CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN