Holder held in contempt of Congress
The House has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over his failure to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal, the first time Congress has taken such a dramatic move against a sitting Cabinet official.
The vote was 255-67, with 17 Democrats voting in support of a criminal contempt resolution, which authorizes Republicans leaders to seek criminal charges against Holder. This Democratic support came despite a round of behind-the-scenes lobbying by senior White House and Justice officials - as well as pressure from party leaders - to support Hold
Dozens of Democrats marched off the floor in protest during the vote, adding even more drama to a tumultuous moment in the House chamber.
Another civil contempt resolution, giving the green light for the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to sue the Justice Department to get the Fast and Furious documents, is still pending.
The heated House floor vote on Holder capped a historic day in Washington, coming just hours after the Supreme Court, just across the street from the Capitol, issued its landmark ruling upholding most of Barack Obama’s health care law. The passions of the day were evident inside the Capitol, where Democrats accused Republicans of ginning up the contempt vote for political purposes while Republicans continued to charge the Justice Department with a cover up on the Fast and Furious scandal.
The fight over the Holder contempt resolution also drew intense interest from outside groups ranging from the NAACP to the National Rifle Association.
Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the lead Republican investigator during the Fast and Furious probe, said the House had to take such a move in order to get to the bottom of the scandal.
“Throughout this process, I have reiterated my desire to reach a settlement that would allow us to cancel today’s vote,” Issa said. “Our purpose has never been to hold the Attorney General in contempt. Our purpose has always been to get the information that the Committee needs to complete its work, and to which it is entitled.”
Issa also pointed out that then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed a call for a contempt resolution against the Bush White House over the firing of U.S. attorneys back in 2008, which he raised to counter Democratic charges of partisanship.
The practical, immediate impact of the contempt votes will be minimal. Holder remains as attorney general with strong backing from Obama, and any criminal referral after the contempt vote is unlikely to go far.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stressed that Holder and the Justice Department needed to be held accountable for not providing sufficient answers to Congress about what happened during Fast and Furious.
“Now, I don’t take this matter lightly. I frankly hoped it would never come to this,” Boehner said. “But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn to uphold.”
But the GOP-led move infuriated other Democrats, especially minority lawmakers, who see racism and unbridled partisanship in the Republican drive to sanction the first African-American to hold the attorney general post in U.S. history.
The Democratic walkout was led by the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom gathered outside the Capitol while their GOP colleagues moved against Holder.
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