Updated: 5:46 p.m.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a contempt report of Attorney General Eric Holder on a party-line vote, 23-17, today, even as President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege on a key category of documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking probe.
The vote will likely be followed by a resolution holding Holder in contempt of Congress to be voted on by the full House.
Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced in a joint statement they were scheduling a vote on the contempt resolution before the full House next week.
“While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week. If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue,” Boehner and Cantor said.
Obama’s assertion of executive privilege was asserted minutes before the hearing began this morning, surprising Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Democrats on the panel, led by ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), criticized Issa’s investigation and urged the California Republican to at least delay the contempt proceedings.
In Fast and Furious, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed assault guns to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
The tactic, which was intended to allow agents to investigate higher up the chain of criminal networks, was condemned after two guns that were part of the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene.
Holder blasted the “unprecedented” action in a statement, saying he and his department have spent countless hours and provided nearly 8,000 documents to the committee. He said Issa rejected his efforts to reach a reasonable accommodation.
“Instead, he has chosen to use his authority to take an extraordinary, unprecedented and entirely unnecessary action, intended to provoke an avoidable conflict between Congress and the Executive Branch,” Holder said. “This divisive action does not help us fix the problems that led to this operation or previous ones and it does nothing to make any of our law enforcement agents safer. It’s an election-year tactic intended to distract attention — and, as a result — has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people.”
Holder said he put an end to the gun-walking before Issa expressed any interest in the issue and changed the personnel in the department’s leadership and practices as a result and urged the inspector general to investigate.
Holder noted he has repeatedly said the department would cooperate but adhere to legal obligations to protect ongoing law enforcement investigations, grand jury material and other sensitive information “whose disclosure would endanger the American people or our agents investigating open cases.”