Recent revelations about high level Department of Justice involvement in planning and covering up details of Operation Fast and Furious leave the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), no choice. They need to process a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder.
As is almost always the case in this era of intensified partisanship, committee member positions on the DOJ’s and the attorney general’s culpability track perfectly along partisan lines, with Republicans turning up the heat and Democrats steadfastly defending the Obama administration. That is unfortunate, as it allows once again those who support the administration to dismiss this investigation as nothing more than an election year ploy to politically hurt the president and his party.
But newly leaked information about the DOJ’s actions leaves no doubt that the committee has a duty now to aggressively pursue any and all information germane to its investigation. Six wiretap applications for the Fast and Furious program signed off by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco provide clear evidence that this scandal reaches the top level of the DOJ. Dismissing the investigation as mere partisan politics simply is not credible given what we now know.
The undisputed fact is that there are two dead federal agents and potentially hundreds killed in Mexico because top DOJ officials approved the sale of thousands of weapons and never determined how such dangerous firearms would be tracked.
Furthermore, DOJ has been sitting on a request for specific information about Fast and Furious since October. To be sure, it has produced a series of Friday night document dumps that allow the attorney general to testify that he and the department are really cooperating with this investigation.
But everyone on the committee knows it is the oldest trick in the book to release reams of materials while holding back those that are most directly germane to answering its questions. And one cannot help but wonder what information is in the more than 130,000 documents relating to Fast and Furious that Holder recently admitted that the Justice Department has not disclosed.
So the committee has exhausted its means of compelling the DOJ to cooperate fully with this investigation. Enough is enough. Eight months of stonewalling make it clear that further appeals for documents, additional testimony by the attorney general and other department officials will not change this pattern. If Congress wants to get to the bottom of this scandal and make sure that the responsible officials are held accountable, it has to use whatever constitutional tools it has at its disposal, even if that means holding Holder in contempt.
The necessary path for Holder going forward is to finally cooperate with the Congressional investigation and respond forthrightly and fully to the subpoena requests. Such a decision is not only in the best interest of the Obama administration but also of the American people, who have a right to know the truth and to demand accountability. Continued stonewalling does not resolve this battle between the branches and it suggests that Holder possibly has something to hide.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.