Republicans on the House Oversight Committee took an extraordinary step on Wednesday afternoon, voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress after failing to reach an agreement about documents related to a failed anti-gun trafficking operation that sent weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
In a hearing that spanned nearly seven hours, Democrats and Republicans traded accusations about the motivations behind the contempt proceedings, with Democrats accusing Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) of politicizing the investigation into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation known as Fast and Furious.
The party-line vote by the Oversight Committee was 23 ayes to 17 nays.
Just as the hearing got underway at 10 a.m., DOJ notified the committee that President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege on documents generated after February 4, 2011, when the Justice Department sent a letter to Congress falsely asserting that ATF never allowed guns to “walk.” That move came after a Tuesday meeting in which Holder and Issa were unable to reach an agreement which would have delayed the contempt vote.
While initially investigating who authorized the tactics used in Fast and Furious, Republicans have more recently been interested in obtaining internal DOJ communications following the Feb. 4 letter. Holder told the DOJ Inspector General investigate the matter 24 days after the letter, on Feb. 28, and DOJ formally withdrew the letter in December 2011.
Issa began his investigation into the operation last spring and released his draft contempt resolution in May.
“I think this is a sad moment for this committee and for the Congress,” Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) said. “Some might be forgiven for describing the proceedings today as akin to a kangaroo court.”
Late update: Holder issued a statement on the contempt vote. An excerpt:
From the beginning, Chairman Issa and certain members of the Committee have made unsubstantiated allegations first, then scrambled for facts to try to justify them later. That might make for good political theater, but it does little to uncover the truth or address the problems associated with this operation and prior ones dating back to the previous Administration.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have scheduled a vote before the full House next week.