House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is attempting to build support for a draft contempt of Congress resolution directed against Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the investigation of the Fast and Furious operation.
Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told Roll Call that Issa has done an “incredible job” on the Fast and Furious investigation and said he trusts Issa’s judgment on the contempt resolution.
“If he believes that contempt is in order, then I have great confidence that that is the case,” Price said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said, “My belief is, if in fact the Justice Department is not doing what they’re supposed to do — not treating a separate and equal branch of the government the way they should — then we should proceed with the contempt resolution.”
In the Fast and Furious operation, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault rifles and other high-powered weapons to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels. The operation involved undercover sales of weapons as a way to track illegal gun running, but the ATF has been roundly criticized for having inadequate protocols for tracking the guns after they were sold.
Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney who oversaw the case, resigned last summer, and several ATF agents have been reassigned.
But Issa and Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is also spearheading a probe, say they are still trying to determine who ultimately authorized the operation.
Almost a year ago, a group of 31 House Democrats wrote to President Barack Obama requesting that the Justice Department cooperate more fully with the Fast and Furious investigation.
Issa has moved to garner support for the contempt resolution from those Democrats as well.
But in interviews, two lawmakers from the group said they’re not ready to hold Holder in contempt.
“I’m for the documents being produced, yes. I’m not ready to go as far as contempt yet, no. Not yet,” Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said.
“There’s Congressional oversight and then there’s politics. Too much of what’s going on this year has a lot more, in my opinion, to do with the elections than trying to provide proper transparency and oversight,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), who urged Issa and Holder to “sit down and work it out.”
The threat of contempt could also work as leverage in negotiations with the Justice Department over document production. A Justice official confirmed that Issa and the department had engaged in discussions since the California Republican released the draft contempt resolution but declined to go into specifics.
In its public response to Issa’s push for the contempt resolution, Justice Department officials have said Holder is complying with the subpoena and continuing to produce documents.
“The Department strongly disputes the contention that we have failed to cooperate,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a May 3 letter. Cole suggested the two parties negotiate a solution.
Republicans bristle at the response, saying the current documents produced are drops of water in a bathtub. Issa has said the Justice Department has not released any documents in 12 of 22 categories of documents demanded by his committee.