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In Historic Vote, Attorney General Eric Holder Held In Contempt

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa has been criticized by Democrats for the pace he set on contempt proceedings of Attorney General Eric Holder.

In the 2008 contempt proceedings, the Judiciary Committee, then led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), approved contempt July 25, 2007, and the House approved contempt Feb. 14, 2008.

Negotiations continued during that time, and the Bush administration made several concessions, including informal interviews with White House advisers. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was then a member of House leadership, also privately urged against the contempt vote on political grounds, delaying it.

In the Holder contempt proceedings, Issa issued subpoenas in October. Since then, the DOJ produced more than 7,600 pages of documents but withheld a far larger universe of at least 80,000 pages of documents.

Issa released a draft contempt report May 3 and, after GOP leadership intervened to stall the effort for weeks, scheduled the committee’s contempt vote for June 20.

At an eleventh-hour meeting in the Capitol to stave off the committee vote for the next day, Holder told Issa that if he proceeded with contempt, his cooperation would cease entirely, Republicans said.

The next morning, minutes before the committee convened, President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over a key category of documents on which Issa had narrowed his focus.

Since the contempt vote, the only communication between the two sides was a staff-level meeting at the White House on Tuesday, during which Obama’s counsel and legislative director reiterated the offer made by Holder at the Capitol.

The DOJ has offered to provide an “illustrative sample” of the documents, a briefing about them and a promise to answer any questions. In return, Issa would have to absolve Holder of compliance with two Congressional subpoenas that demand a far broader universe of documents than the key category under discussion.

Republicans say Holder’s offer is unacceptable because they would have to agree to let go of their demands in return for a set of documents they have not yet seen.

They also describe the DOJ’s negotiating stance as unusually inflexible, citing past instances when administrations would cough up new sets of documents when contempt hearings or House votes were scheduled.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House leadership considered holding the vote earlier so that it wouldn’t be on the day of the high court’s ruling. But that would have required waiving additional procedural rules, something the GOP had criticized when Democrats used the “deem and pass” procedural maneuver on the Miers and Bolten contempt resolution.

Also, a Wednesday vote would have had Republicans voting on contempt and then traveling to the White House for a picnic, a potentially ugly scene.

Republicans discussed but did not seriously consider postponing the vote until after the recess, saying a stalemate clearly had been reached.

They also voted, 258-95, on a second resolution that authorizes the House to bring a civil lawsuit to enforce the contempt resolution. Twenty-one Democrats voted yes on the resolution.

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