WASHINGTON — Thursday saw the first time in American history that a U.S attorney general has been held in contempt of Congress. House Republicans voted to hold Eric Holder in contempt after his refusal to hand over documents relating to the Justice Department’s failed Fast and Furious operation.
Rep Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has a lead an 18-month investigation in Holder’s role in the operation leading up to a 255 – to 67 vote charging him with criminal contempt. Nearly every Republican voted in favor of the contempt charges. They were joined by 17 Democrats who felt pressure from the National Rifle Association, which recently announced it would score the vote. The House also voted 258 to 95 on a civil contempt resolution.
The Democrats have continued to accuse Issa of creating a political witch hunt. The Justice Department and the White House have also expressed concern over what they consider political gamesmanship. Issa and other Republicans maintain they want to get to the bottom of why a risky “gun-walking” investigative tactic was used in the operation that allowed hundreds of guns to be smuggled from Arizona to Mexico.
Congressman Darrell Issa
After the vote Issa explained his position:
“Today, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his continued refusal to produce relevant documents in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious. This was not the outcome I had sought and it could have been avoided had Attorney General Holder actually produced the subpoenaed documents he said he could provide.”
Democrats responded in a dramatic fashion. Moments before the vote, the entire Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) got up and walked out in protest, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrat members of the house. In total 108 Democrats and one Republican missed the vote.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L), House Minority Whip James Clyburn, Congressional Black Caucus Leader Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and other Democratic members of the House of Representatives walk out of the House Chambers during a vote of contempt for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
The walk out was orchestrated by the The CBC who had issued the following press release prior to the walk-out:
Washington, D.C.: Today Members of Congress including the Congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, Progressive and Democratic Caucuses will walk off the Floor instead of voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, in order to express their strong opposition to this partisan activity. Earlier today, the House Democratic Caucus voted unanimously to endorse the walkout. This contempt hearing distracts both the Congress in their duty to pass legislation that is pertinent to the American people as well as the Department of Justice from investigating and pursuing real crimes.
Once outside Democrats held a press conference to express their concern with vote. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) explained, “by walking out, we are declaring we are not participating in this process.”
The CBC believes that Republicans are going after Holder because of his focus on combating voter suppression, particularly in areas with larger minority populations.
Attending the League of United Latin American Citizen’s Annual Convention in Orlando, Fl, Holder was quoted as saying:
“Today’s vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is, at base, both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people. As a result of the action taken today by the House, an unnecessary court conflict will ensue. My efforts to resolve this matter short of such a battle were rebuffed by Congressman Issa and his supporters. It’s clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this dispute or obtaining the information they claimed to seek. Ultimately, their goal was the vote that, with the help of special interests, they now have engineered.”
On record Holder has provided 7,600 documents so far but stands by the fact he cannot provide certain others because it would violate confidentiality rules.
Featured Photo By: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America
Darrell Issa Photo By: The Office of Congressman Darrell Issa