Sunday, April 29, 2012

House GOP still mulling Holder contempt

John Bresnahan

House Republicans are not ready to proceed with a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder over the Fast and Furious scandal, but there are clear signals that that GOP patience with the Justice Department is wearing thin.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday night that Speaker John Boehner had “given the green light” to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to pursue a contempt citation against Holder and the Justice Department for failing to comply with the panel’s probe into the hugely controversial program.

But GOP leadership aides and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee say no decision has been made to take such a dramatic step. They acknowledge, however, the possibility of bringing contempt proceedings has been discussed in leadership sessions.

“While there are very legitimate arguments to be made in favor of such an action, no decision has been made to move forward with one by the Speaker or by House Republican leaders,” a senior GOP leadership aide said.
“The Justice Department has not fully cooperated with the investigation into gunwalking that occurred in Operation Fast and Furious. The House Oversight Committee continues to make necessary preparations to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt if the Justice Department refuses to change course and stop blocking access to critical documents,” a spokesman for Issa added.

“While the committee continues to move toward consideration of contempt, it is important to note that the next step in the process of contempt must be made by the Oversight Committee. Reports, based on anonymous sources, that decisions for consideration of contempt on the House floor have already been made are inaccurate.”

The Times also reported it had obtained a draft 48-page contempt resolution being circulated by Issa’s staff. Committee sources confirmed the authenticity of the document but again cautioned that no final call had been made on whether to press the issue with a floor vote.

DOJ and White House officials counter that they have cooperated fully with Issa’s probe, turning over thousands of pages of documents to the panel and responding to dozen of inquiries from individual lawmakers.

Fast and Furious was run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from 2009 to 2011. Agents allowed hundreds of illegal gun sales to occur in the hopes of tracking the weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

Instead, hundreds of guns disappeared or were used in other illegal activities inside Mexico. Two guns smuggled into Mexico under the program were recovered at the site where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

Dozens of House and Senate Republicans – although not Issa – have called for Holder to resign over the scandal. So far he and President Barack Obama have dismissed the demands as politically motivated.

Enforcing a contempt resolution against Holder would be difficult even if approved by the House. During the Democratic-led probe into the U.S. Attorney firing scandal in 2007-8, both criminal and civil contempt resolutions were approved by the House as it sought internal White House documents and testimony from senior presidential aides, including Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff.

The Justice Department, then under former President George W. Bush at that time, refused to enforce the criminal contempt citation. The House Judiciary Committee then sued the White House in civil court. While the Judiciary Committee won an early round in the legal fight, the two sides eventually worked out a deal to make some of the information and staffers available, fearing that a court ruling could set a precedent that future presidents and Congresses would regret.

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