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House Oversight Committee To Vote On Holder Contempt Citation

The long simmering dispute between Attorney General Eric Holder and the House Committee investigating how the BATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation allowed guns to end up in the hands of Mexican drug lords (I previously wrote about Fast & Furious here, here, and here) is about to reach a full boil:

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is scheduled to to vote next week to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide information tied to an ongoing investigation into the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” gunwalking investigation.

In a statement, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Holder “has failed to meet his legal obligations” by failing to provide documents and other information requested in a congressional subpoena issued last October as part of his committee’s investigation into the scandal.

“If the Attorney General decides to produce these subpoenaed documents, I am confident we can reach agreement on other materials and render the process of contempt unnecessary,” Issa said.

The move was first reported by CBS News, which noted that the contempt vote would be just the fourth time in the past three decades that Congress has launched contempt action against an Executive Branch official.

The Justice Department has apparently handed over some 7600 pages of documents to the Committee, but Members have insisted all along that the department is withholding relevant documents responsive to committee subpoenas. and the matter came to a head last week during an especially contentious hearing that Holder attended as witness:

Republican lawmakers clashed with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Thursday over Justice Department efforts to block voter-ID laws in several Southern states during this election year.

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee also grilled Holder over the botched ”Fast and Furious” operation, in which federal agents in Arizona allowed suspected arms traffickers to buy more than 2,000 guns in order to track them to a Mexican drug cartel.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) slammed onto the dais court-sealed wiretap applications in the case, which he said he had received from whistleblowers. He claimed that they showed that senior Justice Department officials learned about the operation earlier than they had acknowledged.

“Have you and your attorneys produced internally the materials responsive to the subpoenas?” Issa asked.

“We believe that we have responded to the subpoenas,” Holder replied.

“No, Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness!” Issa shouted. “A good witness answers the question asked.”

One by one, Republicans hammered Holder, and Democratic members of Congress came to his defense. The attorney general, who has appeared before Congress eight times in the past year, pushed back several times. When Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) insisted that an e-mail written by a deputy assistant attorney general referred to the “gun walking” tactics used in Fast and Furious, Holder maintained it did not.

“I have superior knowledge,” Holder shot back.

This wouldn’t be the first time that a Congressional Committee has taken steps to pursue contempt charges against a cabinet official. However, in all the previous cases the dispute between Congress and the Executive Branch ended up getting resolved prior to the contempt trigger being pulled. Given how contentious the relationship between Holder and the House has become over this investigation, and the Justice Department’s reluctance to turn over all the documents requested, though, one wonders if that will happen this time. If the Committee does vote to cite Holder for contempt, then the matter goes on to the full House. If the House approves, then the matter would be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. A criminal contempt charge under Federal Law carries with it a minimum of 1 month and a maximum of one year in jail, and a fine between $100 and $1,000.

The vote itself is scheduled for June 20th, and it seems likely to be one that will be completely down party lines, which is unfortunate given that refusal to comply with a Congressional subpoena strikes me as something that Committee members should be concerned about regardless of party affiliation.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Going from the likes of Ashcroft and Mukasey to Eric Holder is like flying directly from a brain surgeon confab to a hash party at a frat house at U.C. Berkeley. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’d rather have Janet Reno as AG than this clown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  2. al-Ameda says:

    The House Committee is contemptible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. Yea who cares if the Executive Branch, and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, ignore a subpoena from Congress and still have not provided a plausible explanation for why they allowed hundreds of guns to cross the border into Mexico without tracking them, and thus end up in the hands of drug lords? And who cares that at least two of those weapons were found at the scene of the death of an American law enforcement agent?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Oh, I respect Darrell Issa a lot, I really do.

    “Have you and your attorneys produced internally the materials responsive to the subpoenas?” Issa asked.
    “We believe that we have responded to the subpoenas,” Holder replied.
    “No, Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness!” Issa shouted. “A good witness answers the question asked.”
    One by one, Republicans hammered Holder, and Democratic members of Congress came to his defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  5. @al-Ameda:

    Having sat across a table from more than one uncooperative witness in a deposition I can say that it’s very easy to get upset in these circumstances

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “ignore a subpoena from Congress:

    Objection, your honor, assumes facts not in evidence. Hint –

    “The Justice Department has apparently handed over some 7600 pages of documents to the Committee, but Members have insisted all along that the department is withholding relevant documents responsive to committee subpoenas” does not mean the Justice Department ignored it. It does not even mean that the Justice Department did not fully comply. All it means is that there is a dispute over whether they fully complied, which your post does not speak to, but rather assumes to be the case. Tell us again how you’re aren’t a partisan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. Not Likely says:

    “No, Mr. Attorney General, you’re not a good witness!” Issa shouted.

    Uh huh…

    The reporting on this has been sketchy from the get-go. Have they or have they not cited executive privilege. If DOJ is claiming privilege this seems like par for the course.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Lightwave says:

    Holder will be made to resign before Labor Day weekend.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. WR says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Mr. Holder, I demand that you provide documents that exist only in my mind and my re-election campaign! And if you can’t produce the evidence that only I claim exists, then you are clearly a liar!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  10. WR says:

    @Moosebreath: You can’t call Doug a partisan. It’s true that when there’s an allegation against a Democrat, he’s fast to repeat it. But whenever a much worse charge is made against a Republican, he’s always the first to say that both sides do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  11. @WR:

    If you’d followed this matter, you’d know that there entire categories of documents that the DOJ is holding back.

    And it’s worth remembering that Executive Privilege has been used many times to cover up matters that, at the very least, would be embarrassing to the incumbent Administration. I for one am not going to accept their assurance that these documents are privileged until that matter is tested in a Court of law, if the DOJ wishese to be stubborn enough to do so

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  12. Moosebreath says:

    Doug,

    “I for one am not going to accept their assurance that these documents are privileged until that matter is tested in a Court of law”

    True. You for one are going to reject their assurance and instead take as a certainty that the Administration is in the wrong. After all, you wrote “given that refusal to comply with a Congressional subpoena strikes me as something that Committee members should be concerned about regardless of party affiliation.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  13. Dazedandconfused says:

    Looked like a fishing expedition to me. Something like 80,000 documents asked for, when there were only about a dozen agents involved. Nevertheless, party discipline insures he will be found in contempt.

    I really doubt the Obama administration was attempting to get guns to Mexico. This sort of gun-sting had been done before, and the dumbasses in the field just pushed it too far. I believe Issa knows it too, which is why he told the agents to shut up when they started explaining how they thought it happened in the hearings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Moosebreath: When one receives a subpoena, identifies 140,000 documents that it most likely covers, and then turn over 7,600 of them while insisting that the other 132,400 aren’t really relevant (you’ll just have to trust us), saying “but it was Republicans asking for it!” is NOT a valid defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. Not when there’s a dead federal agent named Brian Terry whose parents still haven’t been given an explanation of how their son died or why their were guns procured by the BATF at the scene of his murder. Heck, they haven’t even gotten so much as a phone call from the Attorney General

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  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    And let’s not forget that the Obama administration has not even bothered to put forth a plausible cover story for what happened.

    What did happen, you ask? Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives not only allowed illegal gun purchases to be made by agents of Mexican drug cartels, but on occasion active aided and abetted in the purchases — instructing dealers to allow the sales over their protests, and even occasionally providing the money itself for the deals. They then followed the guns as they were smuggled across the Mexican border. And, once again, on occasion they actively facilitated the gun-smuggling, running interference with other agencies whose job is to stop such smuggling.

    And once the guns crossed the border, they did nothing. They had no plans to track the guns at all once the crossed into Mexico.

    This is the key point. This is why the “botched sting operation” is such a lie. There was no operation to botch. There never was. Everything happened exactly according to plan. The plan didn’t go wrong; the plan was wrong.

    There never was any plan for US agents to follow the guns across the border. There never was any plan to notify Mexico that we were providing weapons to the cartels that are, arguably, waging a civil war against the Mexican government.

    The Justice Department’s story, beyond the ‘botched sting” lie, is that it was just a couple of rogue agents at local offices who screwed up. That is, on its face, totally unbelievable. “Rogue agents” simply don’t have the resources to engineer what was an act of war against a friendly state. They don’t have the resources to pull off all that happened.

    No, this was authorized at a very high level. Someone with enough juice to pull all this off. My money’s on Eric Holder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  17. At the moment I can see two explanations for this entire debacle.

    Either incompetence on a level that basically makes the Keystone Cops look competent by comparison

    Or, corruption somewhere in the chain of command, most probably among the high-level ATF officials in Arizona who were running the operation.

    I’m willing to keep an open mind for when further evidence comes out (and as the 40th Anniversary of Watergate this week reminds us, it will come out) but, right now nothing else makes logical sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, I respect you bringing this up, and I understand how hard it can be for someone so tied in to the system as you are, but I’m going to respectfully disagree with you here.

    The “incompetence” argument doesn’t wash with me because of how the operation, as it has been explained publicly, was carried out exactly as planned.

    As for the “lower levels” argument, I have to note the scope of what we do know happened. For example, the assisting the guns across the border — that’s not something I think regional ATF officials can pull off. That necessarily involves at least information, if not active cooperation, from other agencies — agencies within the Department of Justice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Maybe Holder believes that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

    BTW, the Mexicans did arrest some people in the Terry killing. Saying there is no explanation for that gun-fight? Rhetorical?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  20. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: You got a link for those Mexican arrests? Considering that Terry was murdered 11 miles from the Mexican border, I find myself wondering why Mexico would have any jurisdiction…

    And the question is not “who shot Terry,” it was “who authorized the ‘walking’ of the gun that was used to kill him.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: And the question is not “why was there a gun fight,” it was “why were the bad guys armed with guns they got courtesy of the US government?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    My bad, it was here.

    http://www.odmp.org/officer/20596-border-patrol-agent-brian-a-terry

    Nevertheless, four were taken into custody.

    The percentage of weapons in the Mexico drug wars from this is tiny,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: You say “tiny,” I hear “in excess of 2,000.”

    So, how many weapons would be enough for you to start being concerned? Remember, we’re talking about agents of the US government supplying military-grade weaponry to criminal gangs that are, arguably, providing an existential threat to the legal government of our ally nation, Mexico, without that government’s consent or even knowledge.

    I’d say “one,” but please, provide your own answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. WR says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Actually, the question is: If conservatives are so gosh-darned concerned about who is responsible for the acquisition of a gun by someone who uses it to kill, why have they spent decades doing their best to wipe out every regulation on gun ownership and registration? Why do they demand that people be allowed to buy unlimited numbers of guns at swap meets — sorry, gun shows — with no identification required? If a Mexican national bought a hundred guns at a gun show and used them to knock off a fleet of Feds, would you be screaming to have that dealer shut down? Of course not — unless he’s a Democrat.

    Because you don’t give a damn about this. I’m sorry, you almost fooled me by calling the victim by his first name — so sincere. But all you care about is making the other team look bad. So stop your sobbing, sweet pea. You’re only fooling yourself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  25. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Well, first off, about a third of the weapons “walked” stayed here, according to Agent Forcelli. The standard figure given for American sourced weapons down there is around 65,000. There is nevertheless reason for “concern” of course, however being concerned does not necessarily require believing Issa is not playing this for political reasons.

    There had been a couple previous uses of letting weapons walk, although they were run much better. This one truly was one of these:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2PdyxMtiYM

    Yet, the earlier ones did set a precedent that I suspect strongly contributed to a “signing off” in the Arizona DOJ office.
    Combined with the ex-Marine supervisor taking a “break some omelets” attitude on the whole thing, the stage was set for epic stupid.

    Not telling the Mexicans? They are as crooked as a dogs hind leg. See “Murder City”. They also have some moles in the cartels it appears. Strict secrecy about this rabbit seems plausible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @WR: Every now and then, I feel guilty about the things I’ve said about you.

    And then you say something so mind-bogglingly stupid, and so unjustifiably arrogant, that I realized that, if anything, I’ve been kind to you.

    Here, you are actually arguing that there is no difference between the government allowing law-abiding citizens to exercise their Constitutional right, and the government providing foreign criminals (narco-terrorists, no less) with weapons.

    You are not as stupid as I thought. You are stupider than I thought possible.

    Tell the truth — you’re really a conservative who posts comments here just to make liberals look stupid, right? You can tell me — no one’s listening. Honest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: We’ve cooperated with Mexico before. And regardless of what you say (and might be right), our supplying weapons to their narco-terrorists is an act of war.

    If Castro, or Chavez, were supplying military-grade weapons to MS13, we’d consider that an act of war. Especially after the body count from Castro/Chavez-linked weapons started creeping towards four figures.

    Or, if you like, radical militia groups, supplied by your own foreign nation boogeyman. It’s far less likely, but I’m trying to reach out to you in ways you might relate to better.

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  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I suggest you watch the hearings on CSPAN that featured the agents, especially Forcelli, if you really want to understand this.

    “Act of war” is silly. We were not attempting to aid the Cartels, not even Issa is trying to say that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: What we were “attempting” to do is irrelevant. What we actually did is what matters. And we actually did supply a couple thousand weapons to the Mexican drug cartels.

    For no sane reason whatsoever.

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  30. WR says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: When you start screeching like a howler monkey and hurling what you seem to think are clever insults, it’s obvious to everyone — well, everyone with a double digit IQ, so maybe not GA — that you know someone’s just pointed out the huge hole in your logic and you desperately hope that if you yell long enough, no one will notice.

    It’s called a tell.

    So pardon me if I don’t fall off my chair at your tirade. You might as well type “I have no idea what I’m talking about.” It takes fewer keystrokes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @WR: Once again, you very selectively responded. You focus exclusively on the insults (which, quite frankly, is almost obligatory at this point), pretending that I didn’t actually say something of substance.

    Let me repeat it:

    Here, you are actually arguing that there is no difference between the government allowing law-abiding citizens to exercise their Constitutional right, and the government providing foreign criminals (narco-terrorists, no less) with weapons.

    Answer THAT one, dolt.

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