House Oversight Committee To File Contempt Suit Against Eric Holder

Just about six weeks after the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in Contempt over withholding documents subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee in its investigation of the Fast & Furious matter, today the Committee will file a civil lawsuit in Federal Court seeking to enforce the contempt citation:

(CBS News) CBS News has learned that the House Oversight Committee expects to file a civil contempt suit against Attorney General Eric Holder Monday. The lawsuit is to try to force Holder to release documents from the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation.

The Republican-led House of Representative voted to hold Holder in contempt on June 28 for failing to turn over thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents. The Justice Department has said it is withholding documents under White House executive privilege.

Seventeen Democrats voted with 238 Republicans in the 255-67 vote for contempt. Democratic leaders called the contempt vote a “political witch hunt.”

In a past subpoena dispute between Congress and the executive branch, a federal judge ordered the executive branch to turn over the disputed documents. However, before the executive branch could pursue an appeal, the two sides reached a compromise and certain documents were turned over.

The contempt vote had two possible tracks for enforcement: criminal and civil. But shortly after the House vote, the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue a criminal case against its own Attorney General and did not believe any crime had been committed. The civil lawsuit expected to be filed Monday would ask a federal judge to order the Justice Department to turn over the documents.

Of course, this case is complicated to some degree by the fact that the White House has claimed Executive Privilege over the documents in question, although as I explained in a post in June the claim involves the weaker form of the privilege since the documents do not involve direct communications with the President. All the same, neither side may want to argue the nuts and bolts of Executive Privilege and get a legal ruling that will have an impact on future proceedings. Indeed, the last time a matter such as this was before a Court, the parties ended up settling their  dispute before getting a ruling on the privilege issue. That may happen in this case as well notwithstanding how the fact that both sides have dug in their heels. For Congress, there’s the desire to avoid the possibility of an adverse ruling on the Executive Privilege issue. For the White House, there’s the fact that, polling has shown that the public approves of Holder being held in contempt and does not approve of the exercise of privilege in this matter, so it may be best to get this resolved long before the election. Of course, none of this would be happening if the Dept. of Justice had been more forthcoming in responding to Congress exercising it’s job to oversee the Executive Branch.

Update: Here’s a copy of the Complaint, which was filed this morning:

House Oversight Committee v. Holder

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    It’s all part of Darrell Issa’s plan to give the flagging Romney/Ryan campaign a boost. I

    Issa is such a slimy hack.

  2. James in LA says:

    The only case Issa has is rank jealousy, and it’s a bad one.

  3. W.D. says:

    Of course, none of this would be happening if the Dept. of Justice had been more forthcoming in responding to Congress exercising it’s job to oversee the Executive Branch

    Wow. Is this a belief you’ve put some thought into?

  4. Gustopher says:

    InvokIng Executive Privilege While Black.

  5. Paul L. says:

    Nice to see Holder’s apologists keep overlooking that the DOJ lied about gunwalking in a “retracted” memo.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    This is proceeding only approximately the lines and schedule I suggested back when the contempt citation was voted on. Depending on timing, the next step is likely to be that Justice drags its feet for a while, then settles and produces the materials subpoenaed.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    It took Issa 3 long years to find what might be a bone…might just be a rawhide chew toy….but now he’s not letting go no matter what.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: “Running out the clock” works in sports, not in law.

    Holder refused to fully comply with legal subpoenas.

    Obama, by exerting Executive Privilege, has declared that he is part and parcel of the whole appalling cluster-frak.

    Fiat Iusticia Ruat Caelum.

  9. stonetools says:

    Eric Holder should just turn over the documents and then, if stuff goes wrong, well he warned them…

  10. anjin-san says:

    “Running out the clock” works in sports, not in law.

    Well, Issa’s actions are entirely political, and running out the clock does work in politics. I realize you don’t understand this.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    Indiana Jones…
    I don’t remember you being so concerned when the DOJ under Bush was doing pretty much the same thing.
    It was a f’ed up program then…it was a f’ed up program under Obama.
    But it’s not the uber-conspiracy you and Issa have mutual wet-dreams about.
    Both of you need to get over it.

  12. Paul L. says:

    @C. Clavin:
    I don’t remember the Democrats yelling about Gunwalking. They were yelling about attorney firings. I trust you supported that “witchhunt”.

    I like how the Dems and Holder take credit for ending gunwalking when Operation Wide Receiver ended 2 years before Bush left office.
    As for Operation Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious being the same
    Cornyn blows up “Bush did it too” on Fast and Furious

    In that time, he asked Holder if he knew that Operation Wide Receiver (the Bush-era operation) actually did involve an attempt to track the firearms, while Fast and Furious did not. Cornyn then asked Holder if he knew that Operation Wide Receiver was run in conjunction with the Mexican government–Fast and Furious was kept secret from not only Mexico, but from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) attaché to Mexico, Darren Gil. Gil, in fact, after discovering on his own what was going on, was basically pushed into retirement when he balked at the near act of war of “walking” guns into Mexico without the Mexican government’s knowledge or permission.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    I’m sort of surprised Holder et al. didn’t do the standard tactic in these cases: give them all they want. Give them more! Dump millions of documents on them (“Please sign here, we’ll be bringing over the next 11 truckloads tomorrow”) and then Issa et al plow through all the emails between employees sending pictures of LOLcats to each other.

  14. 11B40 says:


    It’s time that our Congress realizes that while all Attorneys General are equal, one Attorney General is more equal.

    Also, I’m concerned that the alacrity with which Congress is pursuing this matter may well result in caution being thrown to the wind some time after Mr. Holder leaves office.

  15. Carson says:

    How about some answers concerning the border agent who was murdered? His family deserves answers!

  16. Steve V says:

    My expertise is in general civil litigation, where one absolutely *cannot* assume that all subpoenas are valid. Instead, subpoenas served in civil litigation are usually intentionally overbroad and need to be fought. I don’t know anything about the subpoenas served here, but I have assumed that this whole dispute has been essentially the same type of skirmishing that occurs every day in civil litigation when parties are negotiating to narrow a subpoena to more bearable limits. This contempt suit is essentially a motion to compel production.

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steve V:So, Counselor, in your expert opinion, how often have you seen Holder’s “here’s 5% of what you asked for; that’s all you’re getting, and count yourself lucky I was willing to give you that much” tactic work in civil court?

    Remember, this isn’t the same as a subpoena issued in civil court. This is a fully co-equal branch of government exercising its Constitutional right and duty to oversee the actions of a federal agency. So the parallel you draw might not fit too well.

  18. Dazedandconfused says:

    @grumpy realist:

    They are dealing in cases involving international criminal cartels and embedded informants.

    It’s really quite a chore to check for items that might reveal the identity of one. Make a mistake, and they are dead.

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Dazedandconfused: Oddly enough, that wasn’t a concern when it came to protecting the identities of the people involved in the Bin Laden raid. The doctor who helped us ID him, the British agent who tipped us off, the CO of the Special Forces…

  20. Steve V says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    So the House is constitutionally incapable of drafting an overbroad and burdensome subpoena?

    All I’m suggesting is that this might not be the most outrage-worthy event. It’s a discovery dispute.

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steve V: I didn’t say that. And neither did Obama — he said that it was covered by executive privilege.

    And Holder didn’t argue that. He just asserted it, and acted as if he had the right to simply make that determination on his own.

    News flash: he doesn’t.

    He can comply with the subpoenas, or he can fight them before a judge. He doesn’t have the right to decide on his own how much he has to comply with them.