House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa came out of a morning meeting with House leadership today vowing to respond forcefully to a Tuesday letter from the Department of Justice, but the California Republican did not have an answer on whether House Republicans will hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
“We’re continuing to re-engage Justice,” Issa said as he was leaving a 9:45 a.m. meeting with Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).
At issue is Issa’s investigation of “Operation Fast and Furious,” a 2010 gun-smuggling investigation 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.
Arguing that Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department is withholding documents under Congressional subpoena, Issa has pushed a draft resolution holding Holder in contempt of Congress.
But asked after the meeting in Boehner’s office if House Republicans would do so, Issa said: “There’s no definitive statement coming out of this meeting. This was an ongoing part of our procedural, ‘How do we do the right thing?’ and that’s really it.”
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 it stressed the “extraordinary efforts” of the department to respond to Issa’s document demands.
But today, Issa said the letter did not begin to address his concerns.
“They sent us a letter which does not even fully justify many of the things they have not given us, and so we’re going to respond to that in some format,” he said.
A key issue of dispute, Issa said, is internal emails and other documents from after the DOJ broadly denied that guns were 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The letter was eventually rescinded by the DOJ, which admitted the denial was false.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.
Although Issa has sought to lobby fellow Republican Members in response to leadership’s initially lukewarm reception to the contempt resolution, he had only praise for the leaders today.
“The Speaker has been very fair and very engaged,” Issa said. “We had a wonderful meeting, and the coffee is really good!”
Issa said he did not know any further details about a Wednesday meeting at the White House or the extent to which Boehner pushed President Barack Obama to lean on Holder to produce the documents.
Neither Boehner’s office nor a spokesman for Obama would provide any further details about that portion of their discussion.