The House is poised to declare Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress Thursday after an eleventh hour attempt to strike a compromise with the White House failed.
At least four House Democrats intend to vote with a majority of Republicans to declare Holder in contempt after he refused to turn over documents related to the gun-tracking operation Fast and Furious.
House Speaker John Boehner confirmed Wednesday the failure of last-minute efforts to work out a compromise with the White House and avoid the vote.
"We're going to proceed," Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Holder would be the first U.S. attorney general declared in contempt of Congress.
The Justice Department on Tuesday delivered stacks of documents to congressional staffers in hopes of satisfying a House committee's demand. But no deal was reached because Justice Department officials refused to let congressional staff take possession of the documents or even write down what was contained in them.
"They weren't even allowed to take notes about what they were being shown," House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said.
Justice Department officials also told the House staff that they could see the documents only if the contempt vote was canceled, Issa said.
"We mutually agreed there was no deal possible, because it was a deal without the sufficient documents to answer the questions that were clearly still there," Issa said.
Republicans ordered Holder to turn over thousands of documents that would shed light on an episode in which the Justice Department first denied that it was operating the gun-tracking operation, a false claim it didn't correct until nearly a year later.
"We were told a lie," Issa said. "We want to know about the deliberations for 10 months between the lie and the truth."
President Obama last week invoked executive privilege to shield the documents from congressional investigators, a move that led to accusations that the president was participating in a cover-up. Under Fast and Furious, U.S. guns were allowed to flow into Mexico so they could be tracked to drug traffickers. But the guns began turning up at crime scenes, including the murder of a U.S. border agent.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the contempt vote political theater and "the kind of political gamesmanship that frustrates the American people so much about what happens in Washington."
Democrats are no strangers to contempt votes, however.
The Democratically-led House in 2008 voted to hold two top Bush administration officials, Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the firing of federal prosecutors.
Still, most House Democrats on Wednesday condemned the pending vote against Holder
"This looks like and smells like a witch hunt to me," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.
A handful of Democrats seeking re-election in conservative districts will join Republicans in voting against Holder, allowing Republicans to portray the vote as bipartisan.
Rep. John Barrow of Georgia is one of those Democrats. He said the Fast and Furious investigation should be focused on finding justice for the family of the slain border agent, Brian Terry.
"The only way to get to the bottom of what happened is for the Department of Justice to turn over the remaining documents, so that we can work together to ensure this tragedy never happens again," Barrow said.