Eric Holder in Cintempt of congress?
- By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
June 20, 2012, 5:46 p.m.
WASHINGTON — A House committee voted along party lines to find Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress for failing to provide subpoenaed documents in the flawed Fast and Furious gun-tracking case, just hours after President Obama for the first time asserted executive privilege and backed the attorney general's refusal to release the material.
The developments Wednesday set up a political standoff going into the November election and a significant constitutional clash between the White House and Congress that may not be resolved until after a lengthy journey through the courts.
The legal conflict was quickly subsumed by the intense partisanship that has characterized relations between the Obama White House and the Republican-controlled House.
Republicans asserted that Obama was covering up White House involvement in Fast and Furious, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives surveillance operation that lost track of guns that ultimately were used in crimes on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats said Republicans were engaged in a "witch hunt."
Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole said the Justice Departmenthad already "substantially complied" with the subpoena.
He said the additional documents requested "pertain to sensitive law enforcement activities, including ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions, or were generated by department officials in the course of responding to congressional investigations or media inquiries about this matter that are generally not appropriate for disclosure."
But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said it had "uncovered serious wrongdoing by the Justice Department. That wrongdoing has cost lives on both sides of the border."
If the full House votes next week to hold Holder in contempt, it would be only the fifth time since 1980 that the House has taken such a step against a current or former administration official.
Political analysts said they thought the issue would have limited effect on the presidential campaign.
"This is the kind of thing that reinforces rather than changes existing views," said Q. Whitfield Ayres, a Republican pollster and strategist. "The people who dislike the president will find his decision obdurate and defensive. The people who like the president will find his decision perfectly well justified."
Most, however, will probably be focused elsewhere. "There will be nothing that we can possibly see on the horizon at this point that is going to supplant the economy as the overriding issue in this election," Ayres said.
Even some Republicans conceded that they needed to keep the focus on the economy in the campaign and not get distracted.
"Do I think that's going to be the major issue of the campaign or that we should shift focus as that should be our major message? Absolutely not," Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) told a television interviewer.
All 23 Republicans on the committee voted for finding Holder in contempt, and all 17 Democrats voted against the resolution.
Rep.Carolyn B. Maloney(D-N.Y.) said she was "extremely disgusted" with the committee's action.
"I am horrified you are going through with this contempt charge," she said. "This shouldn't be a witch hunt."
Holder, in a statement, called the vote "extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary" and said it was designed "to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the executive branch."
The attorney general added: "This divisive action does not help us fix the problems" with illegal gun trafficking or protecting the public and law enforcement on the border.
According to the Obama White House, PresidentGeorge W. Bushasserted executive privilege six times during his two terms, and President Clinton 14 times during his eight years in Washington.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times