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Freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) today said a new effort by Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders to prod the Obama administration into releasing Department of Justice documents is “too little, too late.” Quayle said the House should move quickly to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.) sent a letter to Holder today demanding the release of more documents related to “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched gun-smuggling investigation.
But Quayle, who is engaged in a competitive Republican primary in the border state of Arizona, dismissed the letter as prolonging the inevitable.
“The time has come to recognize the obvious: Attorney General Eric Holder has not and will not cooperate with this Congressional investigation. He has had many chances to do the right thing, and has refused each time,” Quayle said. “It’s time for action.”
At issue is Issa’s investigation of Fast and Furious, a 2010 program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In the operation, ATF agents allowed guns to “walk,” which meant ending surveillance on high-powered weapons suspected to be en route to Mexican drug cartels.
Quayle was one of six freshman lawamkers on the House Judiciary Committee who sent a letter on Thursday pressing leadership to hold bring a contempt of Congress resolution for Holder to the floor.
Instead, the leaders penned the letter to attorney general. Leaders met with Issa on Thursday morning.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Roll Call the letter was enough “for the moment.”
“It’s an abundance of caution,” Chaffetz said about the recent moves by GOP leaders. “They want to make sure that they can convey to everyone that they’ve been patient, bending over backwards trying to give them an opportunity to respond.”
In addition to the letter, Boehner also raised the issue briefly at a meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), a former chairman of the Oversight panel, said that indicated that the matter was on the Speaker’s “front burner.”
But the new requests stand in contrast to the draft contempt resolution, which Issa has unsuccessfully lobbied leadership to bring up for weeks.
Although sympathetic to Issa’s demands, leadership is wary of forcing the issue at this point with the Obama administration. Sources familiar with the situation said Boehner and his team are sensitive to any appearance that they are launching a partisan witch hunt or might be adversely affecting ongoing criminal investigations.
A GOP aide also warned against a racial backlash if Republicans are seen as unfairly targeting the first black attorney general, who is serving under the first black president. “Especially after Trayvon,” the aide said, referring to slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was black.
Meanwhile, groups sympathetic to Holder have begun pushing back against Issa’s move to bring his contempt resolution to the floor.
Earlier this week, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives wrote to House and Senate committees investigating Fast and Furious to “express our unwavering support of Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice, and their commitment to enhancing state and local law enforcement,” according to a copy of the letter.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent Issa a 15-page letter on Tuesday outlining the DOJ’s case against the contempt resolution, calling contempt an “extraordinary step that is inappropriate and unwarranted here.”
The letter argued that many of the documents that have not been disclosed to Issa involve ongoing criminal investigations and stressed the “extraordinary efforts” of the DOJ to respond to Issa’s document demands.
A key issue of dispute, Issa said Thursday, is internal emails and other documents from after the DOJ broadly denied that guns walked in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
The letter was eventually rescinded by the DOJ, which admitted the denial was false.
Holder “said he would not give us information after Feb. 4., which is of course to say he won’t give us information on the cover-up. Not giving up information on the cover-up — it’s one of the areas that the deputy didn’t address” in the letter, Issa said.
The Cole letter briefly addressed those documents, saying “consistent with long-standing Executive Branch practice across administrations we have not produced all other internal communications we produced following the commencement of congressional review of this matter.”