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POLITICS

AG seeks deal on eve of contempt vote

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is calling on a group of Republican and Democratic House members to meet Tuesday to work out a last-minute deal that would spare Holder the embarrassment of a contempt of Congress vote scheduled for Wednesday.

Republicans scheduled the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee vote against Holder because they said the attorney general failed to turn over thousands of documents related to the Justice Department's failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

Holder wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Monday, saying the Justice Department is prepared to hand over the documents Issa seeks to "avoid an unnecessary constitutional confrontation" and a contempt vote against Holder.

Issa signaled that he is willing to listen and possibly open to a compromise, in part because Republican leaders want to focus attention on the November elections and on attacks against Obama over his handling of the economy, a much higher priority for voters than Fast and Furious.

In recent days, Issa agreed to "narrow the scope" of his request for Justice Department documents to the period right after Holder sent a letter to Congress denying allegations that his department allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported the guns to Mexico.

Holder later had to rescind the letter when it was revealed that the gun-tracking allegations were true.

U.S. agents allowed guns bought in America to cross into Mexico in hopes of tracking them to leaders of Mexican drug cartels. But a number of the guns turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border and one was used to kill a U.S. border agent in 2010.

Issa told Holder last week that turning over documents from that period would be "sufficient" to "justify a postponement" of the committee's contempt vote.

Holder has for months refused to give Congress many of the internal Justice Department communications that lawmakers sought to help determine when top Justice officials first learned about Fast and Furious and whether they tried to punish department employees who exposed problems with the program.

But Holder has shown a greater willingness to cooperate with Congress following lawmakers' threat to hold him in contempt and as his boss, President Obama, intensifies his campaign for a second term.

"We expect that this extraordinary accommodation will fully address the remaining concerns that you and House leadership have identified," Holder wrote to Issa Monday.

Holder is insisting that a top House and Senate Democrat accompany him to a meeting with Issa Tuesday because he expects Issa to be accompanied by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

A conservative watchdog group, meanwhile, is seeking records that could connect the Fast and Furious operation to the White House.

Judicial Watch announced Monday it is suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for access to communications between the bureau and Kevin O'Reilly, the former director of North American affairs on Obama's National Security Council.

"The American people deserve to know what White House officials knew and when they knew it," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

 

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