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“The Justice Department is out of excuses,” Boehner said. “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.”
The backing from Boehner and Cantor is significant because Issa has been lobbying for weeks to move forward on holding Holder in contempt of Congress, while leadership has remained wary.
Issa scheduled consideration of the contempt charge for June 20, which offers plenty of time for negotiations between Republicans and the Justice Department over which documents it could give up.
He also specified a clear demand for which documents could stop the contempt proceedings.
“While the Justice Department can still stop the process of contempt, this will only occur through the delivery of the post-Feb. 4, 2011, documents related to Operation Fast and Furious and whistle-blower 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,” Issa said.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole responded in a letter to Issa that he was “surprised” because “over the past few weeks our staffs have met twice and had other communications” to resolve the issue.
Cole said Republicans had not responded to an offer he has made to meet with GOP leadership personally to discuss the issue. “You have not responded to those offers. I continue to believe that such a meeting could be productive,” Cole wrote.
During the George W. Bush administration, threats of contempt prompted deal-making on document production several times.
The cautious response from Democrats might indicate they are ready to deal.
Cummings offered the clearest suggestion that a deal could be near, saying he was “guardedly optimistic that a path forward exists that will serve the legitimate interests of the Committee in conducting rigorous oversight, protect the legitimate interests of the Department in its ongoing investigations and prosecutions, and avoid the needless politicization of this very serious issue.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Issa’s move was “unfortunate and unwarranted, particularly given the ongoing discussions we’ve been having with Committee staff regarding a mutually acceptable resolution to their requests for information.”
Meanwhile, Carney said Holder has taken the allegations that a gun-running sting resulted in thousands of guns being lost to criminal elements in Mexico “very seriously” and noted that Holder had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.
He added that the Justice Department has handed over more than 7,600 pages of documents to the committee and has appeared numerous times before Congress to discuss the scandal.
Carney then referred reporters to comments by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who told The Hill newspaper in March that the investigation is, in part, “politics.”