The House Oversight Committee led by Chairman Darrell Issa will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over Fast and Furious stonewalling on June 20. The vote comes after Issa offered to dismiss the charges so long as Holder complied with an October 2011 Congressional subpoena. Holder has failed to do so. The charges will require a majority vote to pass out of the committee and then will be brought to the House floor for a vote; Speaker Boehner is on board. Chairman Issa's statement:
For over a year and a half, the House Oversight Committee, with Senator Chuck Grassley, has conducted a joint investigation of reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious. With the support of House leadership, the Republican Conference, and even some Democratic Members who have expressed concern to the White House over the Justice Department’s failure to cooperate, this investigation has yielded significant results. The Attorney General has acknowledged that the operation was fundamentally flawed and he has committed to take steps to ensure that it does not occur again. Evidence found in applications for wiretaps shows that although senior officials were given information about reckless tactics, they still signed affirmations that they had reviewed the investigation and determined that electronic surveillance of phones was necessary.
“Despite what the investigation has uncovered through whistleblowers and documents the Justice Department had tried to hide, the Committee’s work is not yet complete. Attorney General Holder has failed to meet his legal obligations pursuant to the October 12 subpoena. House leaders reiterated this failure in a May 18, 2012, letter. Specifically, the Justice Department has refused to turn over critical documents on the grounds that they show internal Department deliberations and were created after February 4, 2011 – the date Justice issued a false denial to Congress. Contempt will focus on the failure to provide these post February 4th documents.
“The Obama Administration has not asserted Executive Privilege or any other valid privilege over these materials and it is unacceptable that the Department of Justice refuses to produce them. These documents pertain to Operation Fast and Furious, the claims of whistleblowers, and why it took the Department nearly a year to retract false denials of reckless tactics. The Justice Department’s actions have obstructed the investigation. Congress has an obligation to investigate unanswered questions about attempts to smear whistleblowers, failures by Justice Department officials to be truthful and candid with the congressional investigation, and the reasons for the significant delay in acknowledging reckless conduct in Operation Fast and Furious.
“While the Justice Department can still stop the process of contempt, this will only occur through the delivery of the post February 4, 2011, documents related to Operation Fast and Furious and whistleblower accusations subpoenaed by the Committee. 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.”
Speaker Boehner's statement:
The Justice Department is out of excuses. Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry. Agent Terry’s family, the whistleblowers who brought this issue to light, and the American people deserve answers. Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the Attorney General in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.
For some context, this is only the fourth time in three decades Congress has proceeded with contempt charges against an executive branch official.
UPDATE: Statement from Senator Grassley, who was the first in Congress to launch an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.
This action is straightforward and necessary. Contempt is the only tool Congress has to enforce a subpoena. The Department of Justice can avoid the action by complying with its legal obligation. It’s not about personalities. It’s a procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances. If Congress is afraid to pursue answers to questions, it’s not doing its job. People deserve transparency from their government. Transparency leads to the truth about what’s going on. It puts people in a position to defend their rights. It protects our freedoms.
The only constitutionally viable exception to the Department of Justice’s obligation under the subpoena would be executive privilege. The President hasn’t asserted that privilege, presumably because the vast majority of the documents at issue aren't related to communications with the White House. Because the documents don't fit the category of executive privilege, the department is obligated to turn over the documents. To date, the Department of Justice has refused even to provide a privileged log describing what it wants to withhold and why. The House committee can't make a judgment about whether there are valid arguments for withholding documents if the department refuses to provide such a log. That kind of fundamental refusal to even participate in any sort of a process of negotiation is what forced the House committee to move toward contempt to require the Justice Department to respond in a meaningful way.
UPDATE II: Democrats on board, putting the argument that the Fast and Furious investigation is simply partisan "witch hunt," to rest:
"The real question is, we’re opening up the data that we have to all the members, so as they start reading specifics of what we know was known and was hidden from Congress, and what we’d like to know and been denied, how many of the Democrats will vote with us," Issa said after speaking at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York. "I expect we’ll have about 31 Democrats with us."
31 Democrats sent a letter directly to President Obama a year ago asking him to push Holder towards transparency in the investigation.
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