The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to cite Attorney
General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to release
documents relating to "Fast and Furious" - a failed government operation
that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The was vote viewed
by many as a legal and political showdown between the Republican-led
House and Democratic President Barack Obama and his attorney general.
lawmakers in the mood to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling upholding
President Obama's health care law, Republican Speaker John Boehner
agreed to bring the contempt votes to the floor of the House.
"Now, I don't take this matter lightly and I would frankly hope that it
would never come to this," said Boehner. "The House's focus is on jobs
and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law, and no
Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn
an oath to uphold."
While Republicans stressed that Congress deserve to hear all of the
facts about the failed "Fast and Furious" operation, Democrats accused
Republicans of unfairly targeting the president's attorney general in an
election year to score political points with their voters and with the
National Rifle Association gun lobby that urged lawmakers to vote for
the contempt resolutions.
Seventeen Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in voting for the
contempt resolution. The vote was 255 in favor and 67 against. Scores of
Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, walked out of the
House chamber and did not vote.
House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican
"As I said to you before, this is not about anything other than they are
trying to undermine the chief legal officer of our country, the attorney
general," said Pelosi. "It is the first time in the history of America
that a cabinet officer has had a contempt of Congress resolution on the
floor [of the House of Representatives] against him or against her."
House Minority Whip, Democrat Steny Hoyer expressed his outrage.
"I believe that the political motivations behind this resolution are
clear, and pose a clear and present danger to this nation," said Hoyer.
Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform, pushed for the contempt vote. Issa has conducted an
18-month investigation into "Fast and Furious" - a failed sting
operation in which federal authorities allowed U.S. guns to flow into
Mexico as part of a plan to identify and dismantle arms trafficking
networks. Two of the guns were found at the scene of the shooting death
of a U.S. border patrol agent. Issa did not accuse Attorney General
Holder or President Obama of knowing about the gun-walking operation or
of a cover-up. But he and other lawmakers demanded that Holder release
more documents in the case than the Attorney General was willing to
disclose. President Obama invoked executive privilege - a power used by
the Executive Branch of government to deny requests for documents or to
A citation for contempt of Congress has symbolic importance, but its
impact is limited because the Executive Branch controls prosecution
decisions. And in this case, that means the Justice Department. Experts
says it is highly unlikely that one of Holder's employees at the Justice
Department would put his or her boss in front of a grand jury for
prosecution, especially because President Obama has asserted executive
privilege over the release of the documents.
The White House released a statement after the House vote, saying that
Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General, and calling the vote
a "transparently political stunt."