U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday made a last-minute offer to share with Congress secret internal Justice Department documents of the ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation just days before lawmakers were set to consider a contempt of Congress charge against him.
Holder sent a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asking to meet with him in person by Monday to discuss the documents, which lawmakers had subpoenaed but Holder had not turned over. Holder wanted to meet before Issa's committee votes on the contempt charge Wednesday.
"I continue to believe that a meeting is required to both assure that there are no misunderstandings about this matter and to confirm that the elements of the proposal we are making will be deemed sufficient to render the process of contempt unnecessary," Holder wrote.
Republican lawmakers want to know when top Justice Department officials first learned the details of Fast and Furious and whether department officials punished the whistleblowers who exposed the gun-tracking operation, which involved allowing thousands of U.S. guns to be sold to Mexico. U.S. agents intended to follow the guns to Mexican drug cartels, but several of the guns ended up at crime scenes on both sides of the border and one was used in the 2010 killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
Holder turned over 7,600 pages to the committee, but the information was redacted so heavily that lawmakers declared it useless and charged that Holder was stonewalling them.
Holder's offer comes just days after he sat through two bruising congressional hearings in which Republicans assailed his handling of the case. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called for Holder's resignation.
Holder said in his Thursday letter that the material he is willing to provide to Congress is "an extraordinary accommodation." He said he would give lawmakers information "explaining how the department's understanding of the facts of Fast and Furious evolved" after February 2011, when Justice officials sent an erroneous memo to Congress claiming it had no knowledge of the gun-tracking operation. Justice later withdrew the memo.
"We believe that this briefing, and the documents we are prepared to provide, will fully address the remaining concerns identified," Holder wrote.
House lawmakers were not on Capitol Hill on Thursday, but an Issa aide suggested Holder's offer may not be enough to stop the committee from voting on the contempt of Congress charge next week.
"The letter only seems to indicate a willingness to offer a selective telling rather than full disclosure of key events that occurred after Feb. 4, 2011," Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins Glover told the Washington Examiner. "We expect the Justice Department to quickly provide necessary details about how it is prepared to alter its opposition to producing subpoenaed documents."
The showdown between Issa and Holder has only intensified the partisan tensions in the House, where Republicans hold the majority.
Democrats on Issa's committee have defended Holder. They wrote in a letter released Wednesday that Issa's push for a vote on the contempt charge on Wednesday was "an extreme and blatant abuse of the congressional contempt power that undermines the credibility of the committee."