House Republicans say they have run out of patience with the Justice Department over its withholding of documents related to the gun walking operation known as Fast and Furious.
The House Oversight and Government reform committee announced Monday that it will vote on a "contempt of Congress" motion against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder "for his failure to produce documents" related to the department's knowledge of Fast and Furious, which the panel subpoenaed in October.
The announcement ends a brief detente between the two branches over Fast and Furious. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to stave off a contempt vote by pressuring the White House directly to turn over thousands of pages of documents, but the Justice Department has not complied.
Aides told The Washington Examiner that the committee’s statement could be a last-ditch effort to get Holder to cough up the documents. The statement includes this line: "If the Attorney General decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary."
Last week, Holder and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., engaged in an angry exchange over the documents at a hearing, with Holder telling Issa he believes the department has released enough information. Issa responded by telling Holder, "You're not a good witness."
The panel is stacked in favor of Republicans, 22 to 16, so it's likely the committee will vote Holder in contempt, but it remains unclear where the charge will go beyond Issa's committee.
While Boehner backs the inquiry, he may not want to take the next step of having the full House vote on the contempt charge against Holder. Such charges are rarely prosecuted even when Congress agrees to hold a witness in contempt and Boehner has said repeatedly he wants the party to be focused on the economy in the months leading up to November's pivotal election.
Boehner issued a statement Monday warning Holder that Congress is prepared to act
“The Justice Department is out of excuses. Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’" Boehner said. "Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the Attorney General in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”
Here's the full statement from House Oversight:
“For over a year and a half, the House Oversight Committee, with Senator Chuck Grassley, has conducted a joint investigation of reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious. With the support of House leadership, the Republican Conference, and even some Democratic Members who have expressed concern to the White House over the Justice Department’s failure to cooperate, this investigation has yielded significant results. The Attorney General has acknowledged that the operation was fundamentally flawed and he has committed to take steps to ensure that it does not occur again. Evidence found in applications for wiretaps shows that although senior officials were given information about reckless tactics, they still signed affirmations that they had reviewed the investigation and determined that electronic surveillance of phones was necessary.
“Despite what the investigation has uncovered through whistleblowers and documents the Justice Department had tried to hide, the Committee’s work is not yet complete. Attorney General Holder has failed to meet his legal obligations pursuant to the October 12 subpoena. House leaders reiterated this failure in a May 18, 2012, letter. Specifically, the Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal Department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011 – the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post February 4th documents.
“The Obama Administration has not asserted Executive Privilege or any other valid privilege over these materials and it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice refuses to produce them. These documents pertain to Operation Fast and Furious, the claims of whistleblowers, and why it took the Department nearly a year to retract false denials of reckless tactics. The Justice Department’s actions have obstructed the investigation. Congress has an obligation to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistleblowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation, and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious.
“While the Justice Department can still stop the process of contempt, this will only occur through the delivery of the post February 4, 2011, documents related to Operation Fast and Furious and whistleblower accusations subpoenaed by the Committee. If the Attorney General decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary.”
Committee consideration of a contempt citation is a debatable and amendable measure. Committee approval requires a majority vote. Contempt is a process for enforcing compliance with a lawful subpoena and does not assign blame for the flawed and reckless conduct that took place in Operation Fast and Furious.